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The Triple Team: Jazz backcourt of Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell carry team to Game 3 win over Grizzlies

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) goes to the basket past Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. (13) during the second half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, May 29, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. Utah won 121-111. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 121-111 win over the Memphis Grizzlies from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Mike Conley does it at his old house

It couldn’t have been easy for Mike Conley to walk into his old arena and hear jeers from a fanbase that still loves him, but has present success on the mind. There was some support, yes, but I got the sense that Conley was almost surprised that the welcome wasn’t warmer — maybe he was just tired after the game, but he seemed bummed out while saying this:

“It’s like full circle. You never thought it would be this way, I never did at least,” Conley said. “Sometimes you live long enough to become the villain. And I’ve become that for, I guess, the Memphis Grizzlies now. So, you know, I’ve just got to take that in stride.”

Regardless, he was a hero to the Jazz. Not only did Conley brush the weird feelings off, he thrived in his unusual scenario, performing as the Jazz’s best player once again in a 27-point, eight assist, six rebound performance in which he shot 8-16 from the floor, and 7-10 from 3-point range.

The Grizzlies’ defense was relatively aggressive in helping from above the free-throw line, but stayed at home in the corners. That meant that Conley had some difficult choices: when he was running pick and roll, the opponent might shift over to help at the perimeter, and he had to decide whether or not to keep trying to penetrate or whether he should kick it out to his fellow guard outside.

Here, he does it perfectly: Clarkson’s not really in good position, so he picks up the ball for safekeeping, takes two steps, and lobs it to Rudy Gobert.

He also just had to decide when was a good time to take the pull-up jumper, when the Grizzlies’ bigs were just sagging in the paint. He hit a whopping five pull-up threes on Saturday, and the Jazz needed all of them.

I also thought he turned on the defensive jets late. After struggling in Game 2, Conley made an impact down the stretch of Game 3. This is terrific: fights over one screen, fights over it again, stays with Ja Morant the whole time, and forces a really tough shot.

These are the moments the Jazz acquired Conley for, and he’s just been terrific in the series — the Jazz’s MVP so far.

2. Jazz giving up offensive rebounds

Two facts:

• Memphis is a very good offensive-rebounding team, sixth in the NBA this season. In fact, sometimes they miss shots to get offensive rebounds on purpose: CBS Sports’ James Herbert wrote this cool article about how Ja Morant will throw it high off the backboard so that teammate Jonas Valanciunas will get the “rebound” and easy two points. It is tough to stop.

• 16 offensive rebounds is way too many for the Jazz to give up. In the end, the Grizzlies shot 17 more times than the Jazz did, with the 16-7 offensive rebounding advantage the key culprit.

I asked Gobert about what the deal was with the offensive rebounds.

“We were always kind of trailing the plays, mis-communicating, not communicating enough and cross matching,” Gobert said. “When you start defensively like that, bad things happen.”

And he’s right, sometimes. Like, you can see what he’s talking about here: the Jazz are in panic scramble mode defensively, so Kyle Anderson can just sneak down to the paint. I suppose the box-out should be Jordan Clarkson’s, but Clarkson is busy boxing out someone else after all of the rotations.

Sometimes, it was the perimeter players who didn’t show enough urgency. Bojan Bogdanovic has to know what the situation here is: if the shot misses, Valanciunas is going to get 2 points. So push, fight, grab, and battle before and while the shot goes up. If it’s a loose ball or defensive foul, that’s a much better outcome than JV getting the easy 2.

And sometimes, it has to be Gobert who wants it more. This is just Jaren Jackson Jr sprinting to a spot while Gobert takes it a little bit easy.

The Jazz have to clean this up: their whole defense is predicated on forcing tough shots and getting the rebound. They force next to no turnovers. If they want to be good defensively, they have to complete the play.

3. Donovan Mitchell’s heroics, and his stoicism

Donovan Mitchell had the two biggest plays of the game.

First, was this and-one: he gets Grayson Allen to bite on the pumpfake, drives past him, and uses wide steps to worm his way to the rim, getting fouled, too. Controlled, yet dynamic — just brilliant offense.

Very next possession, it’s Mitchell again: just a pretty standard pick-and-roll pull-up three (though we should note how well Gobert does at switching the direction of the screen at the last second). It’s an absolutely gigantic shot, giving the Jazz a multi-possession lead that they’d never relinquish.

That Mitchell made those plays didn’t shock me: his late game abilities have been on display time and time again. What did shock me was how little Mitchell reacted.

Typically, when we see Mitchell make big plays, he’s fired up. He’s talking trash to the nearest available opponent, or fan, that has upset him. He’s pumping his fist and giving exuberant high-fives to his teammates.

This time? Nothing. He was slow to get up, and didn’t seem to even react when hitting the big three. What was that about? I asked him.

“It’s a long game. It’s been a while, and I’m just getting back into it. That’s really it. I’m to save energy whenever possible, not being as exuberant — I think that’s the right word to use there,” Mitchell said. “I’m tired, it’s a long game, it’s physical, and I’m going out there to execute the plays.”

The Jazz have been limiting Mitchell’s minutes over the last two games; tonight, he only played in 30. I think it’s something to watch moving forward, Mitchell’s energy level. He had two days off before Saturday and still felt like he needed to conserve energy in Game 3. How will he look with one day off in between games in Game 4?

Regardless, the Jazz were lucky to have him tonight, no doubt. His presence has changed this series. They’ll just also want him at full strength — and full energy — by the time the second round comes along.

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