Mitchell and Conley show off one of the best backcourts in the win over Kings

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (11) appears to pass Sacramento Kings forward Maurice Harkless during an NBA game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News)

Estimated reading time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Quin Snyder can’t think of a sport that Mike Conley wouldn’t excel in.

“He would be a great cornerback, probably a heckuva tennis player; I’m sure he’s a good bowler. You can pick any kind of position on the ballpark, I guess,” Snyder said. “It’s not surprising that he does what he does.”

Now in his 15th season, Conley is a wily veteran who has built more than a decade of wisdom and tricks into his game. Sometimes, though, those tricks aren’t necessary; sometimes it’s as simple as Conley taking the ball and letting everyone get out of the way.

That was the case in Utah’s 119-113 win over the Sacramento Kings at Vivint Arena on Tuesday.

In the fourth quarter, Conley scored 13 points on 5-of-7 shootings, including a perfect 3 of 3 from a 3-point range, to lead the Jazz to a win over a sloppy Sacramento team.

Conley attacked the rim and muscled in layups; he shuffled defenders to create open 3s; he got a Jazz attack that struggled to blast across the finish line outside of him and Donovan Mitchell.

It was his best performance of the young season: 30 points, 11 of 19 shooting and 6 of 9 from deep.

However, to his team, he was just the same Conley he always was.

“If you’re a casual NBA fan, you might not know who he is in 20 years,” said Hassan Whiteside. “But people who really know basketball will say, ‘No, Mike was one of the most underrated basketball players of all time.'”

He showed that again to the kings; and he and Mitchell showed why they are among the best backcourts in the league.

Late in the first half, Mitchell immediately stumbled into the tunnel after limping up from a collision on the pitch. He had rolled his ankle, got hit and then he rolled his ankle again. Frustrated and a little concerned, he stumbled back to the locker room.

“There’s just so much going on,” Mitchell said. “It hurt, so I just went back and made sure I was okay.”

It turned out he was fine – more than fine actually. With a little extra adrenaline rushing through him and maybe a little rage, Mitchell exploded in half.

Mitchell carried a team that couldn’t hit anything from the outside – Utah was 4 out of 25 out of a 3 point range in the first half and the first 20 points came within the paint (that wasn’t by draft) – by 7 out of 10 off the field in the third, including 3 of 5 from the 3-point range.

“Nobody makes the right game every time; he often made the right game,” Snyder said of Mitchell.

One of those right moves came after he scorched the Kings in the third quarter and held off to his veteran backcourt partner to get the job done.

“Me and Don have some kind of nonverbal communication,” Conley said. “He looks at me with his hands on his knees.”

The message: Take the ball a few possessions. Mitchell did the job in the third quarter and Conley finished off the Kings late.

“I think it was one of those games that me and Don were talking about,” Conley said. “As for the rest of the team, we just missed shots that we normally make. In those moments you kind of go with what works. We got into the pick and roll situations – I was just trying to be aggressive; Don tried to be aggressive.”

Their effort pushed the Jazz to the best 6-1 record in the competition, ahead of a three-game road trip against talented opposing guards. As Conley thought ahead of those encounters, it was clear he wasn’t the same old Mike Conley, which isn’t a bad thing.

“Now that I’ve gotten older, I have to prepare differently,” he said. “I prepare differently mentally and physically than when I was 21 or 22. It keeps me young, keeps me moving. I want to show that I can still fight at a very, very high level in this competition.”

He showed that on Tuesday.

When it comes to a sport he’s not good at, he sticks to it mom – mostly because there’s nothing to say.

“I’m a humble guy,” he said. “But I have no comment.”

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