SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – It was only a matter of time before Jazz fans saw the real Mike Conley in action.
Conley snapped an early season slump with 29 points and the Jazz beat the Los Angeles Clippers 110-96 on Wednesday night with Kawhi Leonard sitting out.
“I just wanted to get back to who I am,” Conley said. “I hit one, hit two and could feel going. I felt the energy from the crowd and my teammates and said, yes, this is the game.”
Conley had 18 points in the third quarter as the Jazz scored 40 in the period and took a 90-71 lead. Utah (4-1) has won three in a row.
Conley had 31 points in his first four games combined with the Jazz, but came alive Wednesday night.
Clippers star Kawhi Leonard missed the game for scheduled rest, though coach Doc Rivers has said his star forward has been healthy and energized. The Clippers play the second half of a back-to-back Thursday against San Antonio in Los Angeles.
Donovan Mitchell scored 24 points, Bojan Bogdanovic had 14 and Rudy Gobert 13. But, collectively, the Jazz were determined to get Conley on track.
“Just trying to get Mike open,” Gobert said. “He did a great job reading the defense and making all the shots, driving the lane.”
Lou Williams paced the Clippers (3-2) with 24 points, 16 before halftime.
The matchup of one of the league’s top defenses against one of the top offenses lost some its luster without Leonard, but the Jazz showed how potent they could be with 55 percent shooting while holding their opponents below 100 points for the fifth straight game.
“Our guys take pride on the defensive end,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “We were better on the ball, in pursuit of the ball handlers and got some contests (in the third quarter).”
JaMychal Green, who had 23 points, led his fellow Clipper reserves in a fourth-quarter rally, cutting a 23-point edge to 99-89. Conley responded with a 3-pointer and a lob to Gobert for a dunk.
“Second half, they made some tough shots,” Patrick Beverly said. “They made the shots that we wanted them to take.”
Conley struggled in his first four games with Utah after playing 12 years in Memphis, including a 1-for-16 shooting performance in the opener and an 0-for-7 outing in the last game. In recent days, he admitted it has taken more time than he expected to feel comfortable with the Jazz plays and terminology.
“As much as I tried not to, I was pressing. I have to say some doubt crept in. It was consuming,” Conley said.
When Conley hit a 3-pointer and followed it with a tough layup high off the backboard in third quarter, he pumped his fist and yelled to the rafters. When Los Angeles called timeout, the entire Jazz bench leaped off the bench and ran onto the court to greet the point guard.
“It’s a big relief and I’ve really wanted to start playing like I’m used to. I hope this is the beginning of the positive Mike,” Conley said.
A few minutes later, Conley hit a high-arcing 3-pointer and motioned for the crowd to get louder. Cheers rang out and then turned into chants of “Con-ley, Con-ley, Con-ley”.
“I’ve never experienced that before in 13 years of playing basketball. It was special and I could tell the crowd was feeling like I was, just waiting and had a lot of energy built up,” Conley said.
After just nine made field goals in his first four games, Conley made 11 of 17 shots, including five 3-pointers, and had five assists with a season-low two turnovers.
“Mike’s a pretty calm guy but when he was screaming and yelling, once we saw that, we were feeding of it,” Mitchell said.
The Jazz were hot from the start and led by 14 points early in the second quarter. The Clippers trimmed the advantage to 52-51 at halftime.
The Jazz (4-1) next play at Sacramento Friday night at 8:00 p.m.