As they say, you’re never going to win the lottery if you don’t have a ticket. The ticket in the NBA is making the playoffs with the Championship being the lottery, and once you’ve made the postseason anything can happen. Just look at the eighth-seeded Western Conference team Memphis Grizzlies and their six-game defeat of the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. The Grizz also took a bite out of the fourth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in the opening game of their second round series.
Sure, basketball’s a team game and it takes a great effort by everybody involved to be successful, but there are always a handful of players that stand out. For the Grizzlies, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have been grabbing the headlines, but guard Mike Conley’s been leading the way with a gritty and determined effort.
Lionel Hollins, the Grizzlies coach recognizes the impact Conley’s had in the playoffs so far and isn’t about to let up on him even though he’s playing over 38 minutes a game. “My best players are going to be on the court as long as I can have them on the court. They’ll get rest, but if you look around in the playoffs, everybody is playing their best players. And if you have your best players on the bench while the other team is playing theirs, there is going to be trouble. Mike controls the game for us. He’s our director.”
Conley might not put up the numbers of a Tony Parker or Russell Westbrook, but he’s definitely outplayed them in this year’s postseason and has held his own on the scoreboard. Conley’s average of 14 points a game complement his seven assists and three rebounds well and he’s only had two turnovers in the Grizzlies first seven games.
His decision-making has been immaculate and his ability to find off-guards and big men -- without forcing the issue -- when they run the floor has also been impressive. To sum it all up, it’s crucial that your point guard plays well in the playoffs, and Conley is the major reason why the Grizzlies are pulling off an excellent run so far. Conley’s been orchestrating the offense and chipping in with points along the way, not bad for a 23 year old.
Conley’s was the consummate floor general while Parker struggled for the Spurs in his overall game, and the Thunder’s Westbrook could also be outshone in this series. Conley did a great job of staying in front of Parker and was just as effective going at him when the Grizzlies had the ball.
Most of the holes in Conley’s game have been plugged and he’s showing in the playoffs that he’s a complete player as well as a clutch one.
Conley’s emergence as a top performer in the playoffs shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise though since he’s improved steadily each season during his four-year career and 2010-11 was his best statistically. He’s also the team’s ironman, missing just three season games over the past three seasons. His fine play hasn’t gone unnoticed and that’s why he was rewarded with a five-year, $40 million deal last October with another $5 million of possible bonuses built in.
Conley isn’t without his critics, but he says they’re a good source of inspiration to him. He’s confident in his ability and for good reason as he coaches and teammates support him 100 per cent.
“Hollins encourages me to step up offensively and defensively. I need to not be afraid to shoot five or six times and call my own number, Conley said, “He tells me all the time I need to go, I need to be aggressive.”
The Grizzlies have already achieved more than most basketball experts imagined. But if Conley can keep it up, he could prove to be their ticket all the way to the championship series.