Boston • It’s not been lost on anyone that Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley has been playing his best ball of the season recently.
He had 17 points and six assists vs. the Knicks on Wednesday; 15 points and six dimes Monday in Cleveland; 16 points, six assists, and five rebounds last week vs. the Wizards. back on Feb. 26 against Boston, the point guard racked up 15 points, three assists, and four rebounds.
“What in this specific case do you see that makes you think his pick up in play is more sustainable?” a member of the Boston media asked Jazz coach Quin Snyder during the pregame availability.
“I guess I would ask the question differently: Is there something that makes someone think that it’s not sustainable?” Snyder replied “’Cause this is who he is.”
That’s certainly who he was again on Friday night at TD Garden against the Celtics, as he finished with 25 points (on 9-for-16 shooting, including 6 of 10 from deep), plus five assists, three rebounds, and three steals in Utah’s 99-94 victory.
Jazz fans have feared all season long that the crown jewel of the team’s offseason overhaul was instead a lemon — an aging, physically declining, past-his-prime player incapable of fitting into his new team and, as a result, putting up meh numbers for an albatross of a salary.
The Jazz heard it all. And after Friday night, they’re tired of hearing it.
“It’s just funny how people work. … You all can continue to hate and say what y’all want. I see it, and I know he does too,” said Donovan Mitchell. “… That’s Mike Conley, he’s a Hall of Famer, he’s one of the best players to play the game at his position. And you see it. He’s been playing well the past couple of games, and it’s continuing to go up.”
Conley expressed a similar sentiment, though in perhaps less-aggressive terms.
“I feel good. I feel really good. I’m in a great place. My teammates have been behind me this whole time. It’s been a frustrating road for all of us, because they know how good I am, and I know how good I am,” Conley said. “I kind of have to just sit back and let people say what they want to say until it starts to work. Finally, things are starting to turn the corner.”
And while he felt there was a rush to judgment, he at least wasn’t oblivious as to why it happened.
“The beginning of it, it's really just all on me the way I started, and, you know, the not making shots early,” Conley said. “Even while we're winning, I'm expecting more from me, and so is the team. But I think the injury in the middle of it just left people with empty [feelings] there.”
Yeah, the hamstring injury that Conley had that kept him out, and the re-aggravation of the same injury after just one half of hoops played upon his return — leading to an even more extended absence — contributed to his inability to acclimate, as well as to his teammates by necessity coalescing without him.
One byproduct of that was many moving on perhaps prematurely from the veteran point guard. The Jazz’s own starting lineup drama in the wake of their four-game losing streak — in which Snyder initially planned to move Conley to the bench, before opting to put Joe Ingles back with the second unit instead — only helped to fuel the swirling discontent, the idea that the guard was washed.
Snyder, meanwhile, has been preaching patience all along, owing to all the upheaval in Conley’s life after moving on from 12 seasons in Memphis, and the injury besides.
Now, he believes, it should be apparent to everyone that the patience was warranted.
“I don't know what the narrative is. Everyone should ask themselves that question, because I don't know why we've had a narrative,” Snyder said. “The guy's been banged up, and he's with a new team, he's got two little kids and he just moved to Salt Lake, he's got a new number, he's got a new jersey, he's got a new time zone, he's got a new altitude. Just let him play. That's how I feel.”
Then again, none of the peripheral drama seems to have much impact on Conley, if his teammates are to be believed.
“I love Mike. Everybody is going to have their own opinion on what Mike should be doing. But at the end of the day, he’s the most unselfish, hungry, competitive, one of the greatest people I’ve ever played with. You know, with someone of his caliber in this league, that’s not always the case,” said Donovan Mitchell. “… This is Mike. Like I said, you know, he’s the most consistent, he stays the same every day whether he goes 0 for 20 or 20 for 20. He’s the same guy, the same guy — unselfish, hungry, competitive and ready to go. And that makes him special.”
He has remained confident in his abilities regardless of the sample size of the results, believing that finally being able to get into a rhythm both on and off the court would lead to the results he’s been expecting from himself.
“Really, it’s just just playing. I’m a big routine guy — I’ve been a routine guy my whole life, and I really didn’t have one the whole season, just ’cause I was either playing or not playing, or in a back-to-back I wasn’t playing the next night, and never really could catch a groove. And some games I played 15 minutes, some games I played 28, some games 32,” Conley explained. “So, for me, I was like, 'Man, once I find my groove and once I get into it and locked into a schedule, I’ll feel better about myself. Hopefully the results are starting to change.”
And maybe the idea that this current run is an aberration will start to change, too.
“I mean, I don’t want to have to defend Mike — and I don’t think I need to. He’s shown what he can do in the league,” Snyder said. “And the less he thinks about whatever anyone expects of himself, including himself — don’t have expectations. Just play.”
Georges Niang made it even simpler.
“I don’t want to hear any more Mike Conley slander,” he yelled postgame. “The guy can hoop.”