OAKLAND -– After his fearless performance in a Game 2 win over Golden State on Tuesday night, the Grizzlies’ Mike Conley admitted that he was getting pushed and pulled in different directions as to whether he should play so soon after a serious facial injury.
The push was likely coming from some teammates, who sorely missed their point guard’s presence in a decisive Game 1 loss. The pull was coming from his parents, who believed that the 27-year-old should wait a little longer before putting himself at risk again.
A game-high 22-point effort, including nine first-quarter points and a key three-pointer in the closing minutes, and Conley’s parents are probably just fine with their son’s gutsy decision.
“I had to tell my mom and dad, no, I'm playing regardless,” Conley said. “But, I think they're happy at the end of the day. They support me.”
Hitting his first four shots of the night was an ideal start.
“I didn't expect to come out and score 22 points or anything like that,” he said. “I just wanted to come out and do what I do for the team. Run the team, take advantage of what I see. I was aggressive early, and I had some good looks, and that really did me well for my confidence.”
His teammates were pleased, too, as the Grizzlies simply have no shot at upsetting the top-seeded Warriors without their floor general in the lineup. Now, they’ve gained the home court advantage by becoming the first visiting team to win at Oracle Arena since Jan. 27.
Not only were Conley’s efforts on the court appreciated, but that he was willing to play just eight days after a couple plates and several screws were inserted into his face around his left eye area served as an emotional boost, too.
“He’s showing that he’s all in. He’s giving himself up for the team,” Courtney Lee said. “What better captain to have for your team than a guy like that? Everybody just falls into place after that.”
Coach Dave Joerger said: “He's a great player, great human being. … I think it's just the thing in the NBA that we want to promote as a league. He's a high‑character guy. He plays the right way, doesn't flop around, flail around and complain around. He just plays. Just a high amount of respect for how classy he carries himself.”
There was a scary play in the second quarter. Conley drove the ball towards the net, lost his footing, and was signaling for a timeout with 4:58 to go before halftime. The Warriors’ Draymond Green pounced on the ball despite Conley’s pleas to the ref to stop the clock, and whacked Conley in the side of the face, which was partially guarded by a protective mask.
Conley was visibly shaken. He took a few moments to get back to his feet, but was no worse for wear as the game progressed. His biggest basket came with 2:11 to go in the fourth quarter, when a three-pointer gave the Grizzlies a 10-point cushion and sent the home fans to the exits.
“Mike’s a warrior, man. He had to fight through pain, obviously you see him out there. He’s fighting,” Tony Allen said. “It didn’t surprise me that he kept playing.”
Conley said he hadn’t seen a replay of the incident with Green, so didn’t have an opinion on if the play was clean.
Regardless, he’ll get three full days off to recover from any added discomfort before the series resumes in Memphis on Saturday. After it was difficult for him to watch Game 1 from the sidelines, he’s sure to play a major role for the remainder of what is now legitimately a series.
“For us as professional athletes, this is what we look forward to,” Conley said. “To play at the highest level against the best teams and the best players, that's what we have an opportunity [to do] right now here playing against Golden State, the best team in the league.
“I hated that I had to miss Game 1, but I think I made the right decision, and I was able to do all right tonight.”