When the final buzzer sounded on Wednesday night at State Farm Arena, marking another Utah Jazz win, it was clear to anyone watching that Lauri Markkanen’s 32 points, Jordan Clarkson’s 23 points, Malik Beasley’s 18 points and the contributions from Walker Kessler and Collin Sexton were key to the Jazz’s win over the Atlanta Hawks.
At first glance, Mike Conley’s seven points don’t stand out on the box score, but those with more institutional knowledge or an eye not just for how baskets were generated would know that it was Conley who was steering the ship.
“I’ve played with some good point guards, but nothing like Mike,” Markkanen said after the Jazz’s 125-119 win. “He’s a really smart player and knows not just when to pass ball, but he delivers on target.
“It’s easy to shoot from. He’s been doing a great job of being the veteran on the team and leading us.”
After blowing a 15-point lead Wednesday, the Jazz turned in a stinker of a third quarter and were trailing by 10 points. The bench came in and improved things in the final moments of the third and then the Jazz ran back ahead in the fourth, taking control of the game down the stretch with the starters back in.
Jazz head coach Will Hardy praised the team’s communication down the stretch and pointed to Conley specifically for how that was done.
“I communicate to Mike and Mike communicates to everybody else,” Hardy said matter-of-factly. “Mike has been in so many close games over the course of his career and played in big games and fourth quarters and he doesn’t get sped up.
He’s very poised in those moments and has an ability to communicate clearly to his teammates what we’re trying to execute, so that’s kind of the the chain of command and those moments. It’s me to Mike and Mike to everybody else.”
And the Jazz like that chain of command. They respect it and it works for them.
Conley finished the night with just seven points, but he had 13 assists and just one turnover. He was the game manager that the Jazz needed when things started to get off track.
Good decisions, precision, timing and experience. He’s been providing that to the Jazz for multiple years now, and even though the players around him have changed, his approach hasn’t.