BOSTON — The Utah Jazz players know what people say. They hear it all. They’re on social media, they read the articles, they see the comments.
So when Mike Conley went off for 25 points on 9 of 16 from the floor, including going 6 of 10 from deep, to go with five assists, three rebounds and three steals in Friday’s win over the Boston Celtics, the Jazz players felt vindicated in their defense of Conley over the last few months.
“I feel good — I feel really good. I’m in a great place, my teammates have been behind me this whole time.” — Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley
“You all can continue to hate and say what y’all want, I see it, and I know he does too,” Donovan Mitchell said after the game. “In games like this, you’re not gonna say nothing. That’s Mike Conley, he’s a Hall of Famer, he’s one of the best players to play the game at his position. And you see it. He’s been playing well the past couple of games, and it’s continuing to go up.”
While Conley and the rest of the players say that they don’t care what people on the outside say, that doesn’t mean that they don’t see or hear it and that they aren’t tired of it. From questioning whether or not Conley is worth his $32 million price tag, to calling for Quin Snyder to bench Conley, to saying that Emmanuel Mudiay is a better option over Conley, the Utah Jazz fan base has been loud and unrelenting.
It’s not like the Jazz haven’t noticed that Conley has struggled, but they always had the confidence that he would turn things around at some point and look like the player he’s been for over his 13-year career.
“I feel good — I feel really good. I’m in a great place, my teammates have been behind me this whole time,” Conley said. “It’s been a frustrating road for all of us because they know how good I am, and I know how good I am. I kind of have to just sit back and let people say what they want to say until it starts to work. Finally, things are starting to turn the corner.”
There were a lot of things that happened in the Jazz’s 99-94 win over the Celtics that gave the team some ammunition to use against their critics. The Jazz beat a playoff contender and they won the game on the defensive side of the ball.
“It’s a big win. Coming in to Boston, it’s tough to play here — they have a great team, very well-coached,” Conley said. “For us all to come out and play with the passion that we played with and just compete the way we did, for us to come in and be aggressive, be assertive at all times, it was a lot of fun.”
Look at the top of the Jazz box score from Friday night and you would think the Jazz really laid an egg. Mitchell barely broke into double digits with some freebies off an intentional foul in the final moments of the game and Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale and Rudy Gobert all finished with single-digit performances.
The Jazz were able to to beat a good team on the road even though their regular high scorers were not having productive offensive nights. They didn’t need the heroics of Mitchell or Gobert in order to pull it out.
Instead it was all thanks to an incredible performance from Conley, a dominating effort from the Jazz’s second unit, and some good old fashioned Jazz defense.
With just over three minutes to play in the first quarter, Quin Snyder made his usual substitutions and the Jazz were trailing 27-16 after the Celtics got off to a hot start.
With Conley running the point with a reserve lineup of Joe Ingles, Georges Niang, Tony Bradley and Jordan Clarkson, the Jazz went on a tear from the end of the first quarter into the second quarter that swung the game around.
When the group subbed out, the starters came back in to a game that had been completely changed and were looking at a 51-41 lead.
“We were defending as a team but when those guys came in, they took it to another level,” Snyder said. “It was a collective effort and they were really playing together offensively and getting one another shots. When you trust each other like that, that’s a group that between Mike, Joe, Jordan and George, those guys they can play — they know how to play.”
Snyder also went on to note the performance of Bradley, who had one of his best all around games and looked incredible on the defensive side of the ball.
It’s been an up and down ride this season for Bradley who was in and out of the lineup in the early going behind Ed Davis but has slowly come along as the backup option behind Gobert.
Though he sometimes still looks like a little bit of green player who is figuring things out, Bradley continues to look better as each game passes.
“He executed,” Snyder said of Bradley. “He was where he needed to be in the pick-and-roll and moved his feet, challenged shots. ... Tony’s working it. The situations we put him in are not always easy, but he really embraced the game plan.”
With 39 points from the bench, the Jazz improved to 40-22 on the season after winning their fourth straight game and starting their current road trip 3-0. The Jazz finish off the trip on Saturday night with the second half of a back-to-back against the Detroit Pistons.