Mike Conley has always been the man.
He was the man when he was a youngster growing up in the legendary Conley family. He was the man when he led his high school to three straight Indiana state championships. He was the man when he led the Ohio State Buckeyes to the national championship as a freshman. He was the man when he was the first point guard drafted in the 2007 NBA Draft. Most importantly, he’s always been an elite point guard in the NBA, even if he’s never been recognized for it.
That last point was driven home on Tuesday evening, as the player who didn’t receive the MVP trophy in Oracle Arena proved he’s just as valuable to his team. Conley had missed the Memphis Grizzlies’ last three games due to undergoing surgery to repair multiple facial fractures. Yes, the man broke his face after catching a wild flying elbow from C.J. McCollum.
This is what Conley’s sad and disgusting face looked like a few days after the elbow during an interview of Game 1 vs. the Golden State Warriors. (Viewer discretion is advised.)
After seeing him in that condition on Sunday night, I just assumed Conley wasn’t going to be playing basketball anytime soon. So when I got the notification on my phone that Conley was going to play in Game 2, I truly did not believe it.
Then Draymond Green happened.
Conley, now rocking the face mask and a metal plate in his face, stumbled while trying to drive to the lane. Conley grabbed the ball on the ground and called timeout. Then Draymond came over like a madman (I promise this is a compliment) to snatch the ball, thus smashing Conley’s just repaired face. Was it intentional? Probably not. Will Grizzlies fans have all the Grit and Grind rage for Draymond when he touches down in Memphis? Absolutely.
Here’s the thing. Mike Conley is the man and once again tried to remind the world why on Tuesday night.
Conley’s 22 points in just 27 minutes of action led the Grizzlies into a 97-90 Game 2 victory to even the series at 1-1. Conley’s offensive exploits were certainly missed in Memphis’ already dilapidated offense, as the point guard found ways to navigate the middle of Golden State’s defense and hit crucial threes in big moments. Plus, Conley’s biggest asset has always been his defense. Conley held Steph Curry to just 19 points, shooting an abysmal 2-of-11 on his three-point attempts. Moreover, the Warriors turned the ball over 20 times while registering just 16 assists.
The result? The Memphis Grizzlies looked like the team everyone else in the NBA carried the ultimate respect and fear for. They’re tough as nails, resilient like a rock, and full of grit and grind. After Game 1, many thought the Grizzlies would be swept. After Game 2, no one would be surprised if this series went a full seven games.
The reason? While Zach Randolph has always been the go-to consistent force on the block, Marc Gasol the do-everything two-way savant and Tony Allen the insane defensive nomad we’ve all come to love … Mike Conley is the man, and always has been for this team — even if he’s never been recognized for it. Real recognizes real, even if Conley’s face is looking a bit unfamiliar these days.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”