Orlando • After playing nearly 900 games over 13 NBA seasons, Mike Conley doesn’t get nervous on the basketball court. Watching his team on TV, though, is a different story.
“I’m like a super fan,” he said.
So as the veteran point guard tuned in for Game 1 of the Utah Jazz’s first-round playoff series from his home in Ohio, he was anxious and sweating. Watching Game 2 while quarantining in his hotel room, Conley shouted at his television.
“I’m yelling at the guys on the screen,” he said. “I’m texting the guys during the game even though I know they’re not able to respond.”
By Game 3, those nerves were gone. After missing the first two games of this first-round playoff series due to the birth of his son, Conley was back on the court Friday, back in the Jazz’s starting lineup, and back in his comfort zone to help his team cruise to a 124-87 victory and take a 2-1 series lead over the Denver Nuggets.
Conley tied a Utah franchise record with seven 3-pointers (on eight attempts) in a single playoff game, finishing with a game-high 27 points.
“It was a joy to be out there with the guys,” Conley said afterward. “I know how much they supported me throughout this process and how much they wanted me back out on the court.”
Conley’s third child, Elijah, was born Sunday, 11 days early and the morning before the NBA playoffs began. Conley left the NBA Bubble that day to join his family in Ohio and returned to Florida a day later. Because of the league’s safety policies regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, Conley had to spend the next four days quarantined in his hotel room on the NBA campus.
“Being locked up all day and being able to only go outside for 30 minutes a day to dribble a basketball in the parking lot, being on that court was all I was thinking about other than my family,” Conley said.
The Jazz were anxious to get Conley back, too.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he’s a terrific player,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s found a rhythm as the season’s gone on and it shows. Obviously, it was important for him to go home and be with his family. I know how glad our guys were to see him back. He played a terrific game. Really, that’s who he is.”
With his family watching from home, Conley and the Jazz put on a show Friday in Orlando. The point guard went 9-for-13 from the field and dished out four assists. The Jazz’s All-Star center Rudy Gobert set a career playoff-high with 24 points and 14 rebounds. All-Star guard Mitchell scored 20 points of his own.
“Donovan and Joe [Ingles] and Rudy were all making plays for everybody around us,” Conley said. “You get good looks and you get into a good rhythm. I didn’t have to press too much to get anything going.”
With 9:50 still left in the game, Conley turned into a spectator once again as he and the rest of the Jazz starters exited the game for good. The Jazz have cruised to back-to-back double-digit victories after dropping Game 1 of the series in overtime.
“The great thing about tonight is that we played a hard game, you know, there’s nothing that we did tonight that I haven’t seen this team doing before,” Gobert said. “You know, we were playing hard, communicating on defense and offensively trying to get baskets and move the ball. I know that Mike can make those shots every night, I know that Georges (Niang), Donovan, Joe can all make those shots every night, you know, so it’s all about keeping on… and reading and making the right play.”
Game 4 is scheduled to tipoff Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET. Snyder cautioned his squad against getting complacent after a pair of lopsided victories over a Denver team that went 3-0 against the Jazz in the regular season.
“This is the playoffs. A part of the playoffs is being able to get to the next game,” Snyder said. “We have to be ready to play the next game and maintain our focus and our intensity and that will be the challenge. I think our team is capable of doing that. I think they want to do that. Honestly, we are playing against a very good team. Tonight, the score was lopsided, but we’ve had a couple of overtime games. We’ve had really difficult games with them throughout the year. They’ve beat us. We have to keep doing the things that we feel like we need to do to be successful… You can’t focus on what’s behind, you have to focus on what’s in front of you.”
For Conley, that means focusing on family and basketball.
“I always play for my kids,” he said. “Especially now with the third here, it just makes it that much more evident, that much more of purpose to be out here playing.”
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— utahjazz (@utahjazz) August 21, 2020