Mike Conley went home for the birth of his son, returned to quarantine for four long days and then looked like he never left the bubble.
Making his Utah Jazz postseason debut, the veteran point guard buried seven 3-pointers — a playoff career high — to spark the Jazz to a surprising 124-87 rout over the Denver Nuggets in Game 3 of their Western Conference first-round series on Friday.
The Jazz had to wait until Game 3 to get Conley back but it was worth the wait. Conley, who was traded to Utah last summer after 12 seasons in Memphis, drilled his first six 3-pointers before finishing with 27 points.
“If you knew what I just went through in quarantine, being locked up all day and only being able to go outside for 30 minutes [each day] and dribble a ball in the parking lot, not being able to play,” Conley said of NBA protocol upon returning to the bubble in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. “Being on that court is all I was thinking about other than my family. I’m just thankful to be back and looking forward to the rest of the series.”
The Jazz completely demoralized the third-seeded Nuggets, who now trail 2-1 in this best-of-seven series.
Center Rudy Gobert got the rout started by making five of his first six shots and having 12 points and seven rebounds in the first quarter. Conley then got hot in the second quarter, knocking down three 3-pointers and scoring 11 points to help the Jazz lead by as many as 25 in the first half.
“I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: He’s a terrific player,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s found a rhythm, really, as the season’s gone on. It shows. Obviously, it was important for him to go home and be with his family. And I know how glad our guys were to see him back. He played a terrific game, and really, that’s who he is.”
Conley shot 9-for-13 from the field, including 7-of-8 from behind the arc in 24 impactful minutes. The point guard matched the combined scoring output of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Denver’s two stars totaled 27 points on 11-for-29 shooting.
“Just playing the game,” Conley said after praising his teammates for making things easy for him to step back in. “I know how to play. I’ve been here before. I know what I’m doing. Just shut out all the noise and going out there and having fun.”
Conley said he was so glued in to watching the first two playoff games on TV that he found himself texting his teammates while they were playing on the court.
“I get anxious, I start to sweat,” Conley said of what it was like to watch the first two games. “I am sitting there yelling at the guys and screaming, texting the guys during the game even though I know they are not going to respond. Giving them my thoughts and being a fan and being supportive. It was definitely hard to watch without me being out there, but for us to get one of the two first games is great.”
Now the point guard has put his finger prints on this series. When he sank a 13-foot floater at the third-quarter buzzer, Conley pushed the Jazz lead to 94-62 entering the fourth.
Conley said he had extra juice for his first Jazz playoff game coming off the birth of his son.
“First of all, I always play for my kids, especially now with a third,” Conley said. “Just makes it that much more evident, that much more of a purpose, when you’re out there playing. Really was just a joy to be out there with the guys. I know how much they supported me through this process and how much they wanted me back out on the court, so I’m just happy I got to go out there and play with them.”