Gritty Conley breathes life into Grizzlies 

click to enlarge Grizzlies guard Mike Conley, right, provided an emotion lift for Memphis and helped throw Warriors guard and NBA MVP Stephen Curry off his game. - BEN MARGOT/AP
  • Ben Margot/AP
  • Grizzlies guard Mike Conley, right, provided an emotion lift for Memphis and helped throw Warriors guard and NBA MVP Stephen Curry off his game.

OAKLAND — For a moment, it looked as if Mike Conley might not arise from the floor anytime soon. For a moment, any hope the Memphis Grizzlies had of winning this Western Conference semifinal series against the Warriors lay writhing on the court, clutching the mask he wore to protect a fractured face that is still swollen and discolored.

This was an accident, forward Draymond Green tried to explain in the moments afterward, in the second quarter of the Warriors' 97-90 setback in Game 2 at Oracle Arena on Tuesday. It also was an emotional catalyst, the kind of spark a seemingly listless Memphis team needed to carry it through a surprising victory against the best home team in the NBA. Not long after Conley took that blow from Green, the Grizzlies went on a 9-0 run to end the first half and take a 50-39 lead. And the Warriors would never get much closer again.

"It's just showing that he's all in," Memphis guard Courtney Lee said. "He's giving himself up for the team."

Conley finished with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting in 27 minutes, despite the facemask and despite a lingering foot injury. When the Warriors were poised to make a run during the fourth quarter, Conley swept into the lane and hit a runner off glass to extend the Grizzlies' lead back to 85-76. When the Warriors cut it to 87-80, the lefty hit a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 10 with 2:11 left. And when he was forced to leave in the final minute because of a cramp, the Grizzlies struggled to even push the ball across midcourt.

But once again, he returned to the game in the waning seconds when the Grizzlies needed him. Which they will in this series, time and again.

Because Green swiped at the ball while Conley was prone on the court and after Conley had signaled to the referee for a timeout, it immediately raised the question as to whether Green had taken a deliberate swipe at Conley's face, near the spot where Conley had two plates inserted after he took an elbow to it during the first-round series against Portland.

"My bad," Green mouthed to the Grizzlies' Zach Randolph.

Even more than the emotional jump-start, though, the Grizzlies needed Conley himself, appearing in his first game in 10 days since suffering the injury. It was, coach Dave Joerger said before the game, "speculation" on how many minutes Conley might get, or whether he might help or hurt the team.

But what played out was a best-case scenario. This became apparent in the early going: Conley was the one who staked the Grizzlies to an early lead, and he was the one who scored nine of Memphis' first 14 points, hitting runners and jumpshots and opening up a Grizzlies' offense that had been hamstrung without an outside threat during a Game 1 loss. And on defense, he helped stymie the Warriors' Stephen Curry, who made only seven of his 19 shots.

"I was a little bit nervous," Conley admitted. "I got hit [in the mask] a couple of times, and after that I knew what it felt like. ... I didn't expect to come out and score the ball."

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Michael Weinreb

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