The Utah Jazz had just a one-point lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers before Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff called the final timeout of the game with 17.9 seconds left on the clock Sunday.
It all came down to one final defensive possession for the Jazz and in the end it was Mike Conley who was able to contain Darius Garland in the final seconds that sealed the 109-108 victory for the Utah.
“The last possession was collectively guys just locked in and we got hits on the glass against a big team going to the boards,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said after the game. “Heck of a possession all the way around. Sometimes it’s one stop, sometimes it’s two but, playing defense down the stretch is going to win games.”
The Cavaliers inbounded the ball and quickly got into the hands of the 21-year old Garland, who had scored 31 points. Conley, 34, covered him closely and slipped over the top of a Lauri Markkanen screen that he figured was coming.
“Last possession I knew it was going to coms to him,” Conley said of Garland. “I’ve known J.B. as the head coach for a while and I knew there was going to be some kind of slip and (Garland) getting downhill to his right. We played it right, got him to turn his back and kind of pick up the ball. I knew when he gave it up, he was going to come back and get it.”
Garland drove hard toward to basket but stopped about seven feet short and Conley wasn’t conceding any space.
“He did a great job,” Snyder said of Conley. “Even when (Garland) got deep I thought Mike really didn’t get pushed off his spot. He’s got the ability to bump you a little bit and shoot the step back or the floater. Just really, really good defense, one-on-one defense, a big play by Mike.”
Garland pivoted around in circles before giving up the ball to Markkanen out on the perimeter, who handed the ball back off to Garland.
The Jazz had talked in the huddle about what needed to happen. They just needed a stop — one stop. Now was the time time to lock in.
“Just one stop, do whatever needs to be done to get one stop,” Donovan Mitchell said. “Just be solid and rebound.”
But, that wasn’t the end of the possession. Although 17.9 seconds isn’t a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, it can feel like an eternity when the pressure is on.
“Just trying to chase him and apply pressure as much as possible,” Conley said. “Saw time running down and tried to stay up as high as I could, knowing that at some point they have to shoot this ball and however deep he is, I just want to be there to contest it.”
Conley and Garland were back where the possession began and the elder point guard was right — time was running out for the Cavaliers. Garland pulled up from the logo with Conley’s outstretched hand in his face.
“As he shot it I just flashed back to New Orleans and Memphis,” Mitchell said, remembering the Jazz’s recent close losses, and hoping that this wouldn’t be another one. “But Mike did a great job the last possession communicating. They came up and tried to set it with Laurie Markkanen. Him getting over that screen and being able to just compete ... sometimes it’s just a matter of will.”
Garland missed the shot and then it was just a matter of keeping the Cavaliers off the boards. Rudy Gobert and Royce O’Neale made sure to fight to keep Cleveland from getting a legitimate put back, and the Jazz won the game.
If it hadn’t been for Conley’s defense on Garland, we might be looking at a different outcome. But there’s a reason Conley’s defense was so deft on the younger guard. He reminded Conley of himself.
“A guy like him, who’s patient and takes his time and picks the right spots to attack and be aggressive,” Conley said. “I told him it was like playing against myself there for a little bit with some of the stuff he was doing. It was a good challenge.”