LA Clippers v Utah Jazz
Jazz guards Donovan Mitchell #45 and Mike Conley #10 hug after a game against the LA Clippers on Oct. 30, 2019.
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Mountain Mike Conley breaks out of early season slump and his Utah Jazz teammates say 'this is the beginning'

by Aaron Falk

Mike Conley felt frustrated, out of sync. The shooting touch that had always been so reliable had been failing him and he likened the struggle to regain his form to being stuck in quicksand: the harder you fight, the more you sink.

That all changed Wednesday night.

The veteran point guard saw one shot fall, then another, and another. He raised his arms in the air, asked the roaring crowd to be louder still, and listened to them chant his name.

Mountain Mike had finally walked out of the desert.

“I hate that it had to start this way,” Conley said of his early-season struggles. “But I knew it was going to come.”

Conley broke out of his early slump in a big way in Wednesday’s 110-96 win over the LA Clippers. The 11 baskets he made were more than he’d hit in his first four games combined (9), and his game-high 29 points left his teammates and the 18,306 fans at Vivint Smart Home Arena buzzing.

“That’s unique and special,” Conley said of the feeling in the arena. “I could tell they were feeling like I was. They were waiting. There was a lot of energy built up.”

After 12 years with the Memphis Grizzlies, more than a decade of running point for the same franchise, Conley had been finding his way in a new offense to start this season. The point guard opened his campaign by going 9-f0r-45 (20 percent) from the field in the Jazz’s first four games. He hit just 3 of his 20 attempts from beyond the arc in that time. It was frustrating for Conley, but his teammates weren’t concerned.

“Everybody knows how good he is,” forward Bojan Bogdanovic said after the team’s morning shootaround. “We are not worried about his shooting.”

While Bogdanovic spoke to reporters in the morning, Conley was busy trying to shoot himself out of his slump on the practice court. The point guard was determined and wanted to stay late to get up extra shots. His teammates stopped him.

“Save them. Save them,” they told Conley.

“I gotta keep shooting and get this rhythm,” he said.

“Nah,” they told the vet. “You’re going to be fine.”

Jazz coach Quin Snyder offered similar encouragement.

“Coach pulled me aside and said, ‘Just be you. Don’t worry about anything,’” Conley said.

The point guard got things going with an early floater Wednesday night, and by halftime, he had six points on 3-of-6 shooting.

“I thought some of it was just getting comfortable and relaxing,” Snyder said. “He was getting really good reads, playing downhill and taking what the defense gave him. That’s who he is.”

But the third quarter is when Conley came alive.

The point guard drained a 3 from the left angle early in the second half. Then he used a Rudy Gobert screen to get an easy right-handed floater. The crowd roared when Conley hit a pull-up 3. And Conley roared back at them moments later, after driving to the basket for a layup over Clippers center Ivica Zubac.

“I think we all felt it,” said Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell. “We all felt his excitement. Mike’s a pretty calm guy and he was yelling and screaming. Once we saw that, we were feeding off that, too.”

Conley went for 18 points in the third, hitting on six of his eight attempts, including all four from beyond the arc.

“I was shooting the same type of shots,” Conley said. “Once I saw a couple go in, you just feel more confident letting each one go. I was getting the same looks I’ve been getting all year so far. You can’t shoot any worse, so eventually, it’s going to fall.”

Conley finished the night with 29 points, five assists, and got a celebratory water-bottle shower from his teammates as he did his post-game interview.

“Hopefully this is the beginning of the positive part,” Conley said.

His teammates have no doubts about that.

“He’s going to have a lot of nights like tonight,” Mitchell said. “This is the beginning.”

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