Mike Conley’s absence, uncertain status now glaring as Utah Jazz find themselves tied with LA Clippers

Conley has missed the entire Clippers series with a right hamstring strain. His status for Game 5 is unknown

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, center, has his shot blocked by Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, right, as forward Kawhi Leonard defends during the first half in Game 4 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Mike Conley’s strained right hamstring has kept him out for the entirety thus far of the Utah Jazz’s Western Conference second-round playoff series vs. the Los Angeles Clippers.

That didn’t feel like so much of a problem during the first two games, Donovan Mitchell shouldering a heavy load, the Clippers having no answer for anything the Jazz did offensively as they took a 2-0 series lead.

As Games 1 and 2 gave way to Games 3 and 4, Conley’s hamstring is feeling like more of an issue now. Once appearing to be drowning in chaos during the first two games, the Clippers have circled the wagons. While Mitchell continues to be excellent, averaging 37.4 points per game for the series, the Clippers have thrown everything they have at him defensively. Conley is not there to ease the burden, and the rest of the rotation did not ease the burden in Game 3 or Game 4.

In the first quarter, the Jazz scored 13 points on 6-for-21 shooting and 1-for-7 from 3-point range. There were no easy looks, zero fastbreak points, and six turnovers. The result was a 30-13 first-quarter deficit and an outcome that was never in doubt despite the Jazz playing better in the second half.

“You don’t even understand what he means for our team, we are missing him big-time,” Bojan Bogdanovic said after scoring 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting. “We showed in the first two games that we can play against them and we can beat them. We played 82 games for a reason. We have home-court advantage, and we need to take advantage of that.”

Conley was injured in the Game 5, series-clinching win over the Memphis Grizzlies on June 2, and has not played since. He has been seen getting pregame workouts in during this Clippers series, but there is no promise of a return from an injury that has plagued his time in Utah.

Conley, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, has missed extended time with injuries to both hamstrings in his two seasons with the Jazz. Most recently, he missed six games in February and another nine in late April and May because tightness in the same right hamstring that has him out now.

If Conley cannot go on Wednesday night in a hugely-critical Game 5 back at Vivint Arena, or even at all in this series, the onus to carry the top-seeded Jazz into the Western Conference Finals against the waiting-and-resting Phoenix Suns will continue to fall on Mitchell.

Mitchell scored 37 points on Wednesday on 9-for-26 shooting, including 6-for-15 from 3-point range, while facing an aggressive, willing Clippers defense. The longer this series goes on without Conley, the longer Mitchell tries to do everything on a balky right ankle, the worse off it could be for the Jazz.

“It’s been different, it’s tough,” Mitchell said. “It’s tough, but that’s the job at hand. We’ve done a great job as a group, we’ve tried to go different looks and do different things. It’s tough, but it is what it is.”