by Clay Bailey —
Mike Conley is continuing to lead the Memphis Grizzlies down the stretch, and a new big center has stepped up to help with the scoring load.
Conley had 28 points and 11 assists and Jonas Valanciunas added 27 points as the Grizzlies defeated the Utah Jazz 114-104 on Friday night.
The victory was second in a row and third in the last four for the Grizzlies, who are next-to-last in the Western Conference, above only Phoenix. Memphis hasn’t won three straight since November, but the latest run is an indication that the Grizzlies may be improving as they work in new players acquired at last month’s trade deadline.
“We’re finding that chemistry,” said Valanciunas, who came to the Grizzlies in the trade that sent Marc Gasol to the Toronto Raptors. “We’re finding how we play together. How we share the ball. Each game, we’re getting (those) small details. It comes with experience, and we’re slowing getting that experience.”
Conley scored 13 points in the fourth quarter and Valanciunas added 10 as Memphis held off several Utah runs. The Jazz got no closer than four points down the stretch.
Donovan Mitchell, who led Utah with 38 points, including 20 in the fourth quarter, said the difference was Utah’s inability to get stops down the stretch.
“There were little things that we normally do, that we didn’t do tonight,” Mitchell said.
Joe Ingles finished with 14 points and seven assists. Kyle Korver had 13 points, but was 4 of 12 from the floor, including 3 of 11 from outside the arc.
Mitchell was doing his part in the fourth to keep Utah close, but Memphis relied on runs by Valanciunas and Conley. Valanciunas scored eight straight Grizzlies points in the fourth period, helping Memphis build the lead to 10 with 5 minutes left. Conley then made a trio of floaters and had a pair of free throws to hold Utah at bay.
“We didn’t do a good enough job defensively,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “They got by us too easily. I don’t think we were as urgent as we need to be.”
Utah is jockeying for seeding position while Memphis is trying to find its way with almost a new cast of players.
“It feels like we’ve got something going,” Conley said. “We’re starting to get comfortable in everybody’s role and understanding what we expect from each other. When guys are on the court, there’s a little bit less second-guessing.”
Jazz: G Ricky Rubio was out with left hip tightness. … Converted 11 of 27 3-pointers in the first half and made 9 of 12 shots inside the arc. … In the first half, Rudy Gobert had more blocks (3) than rebounds (1). He finished the night with nine points and seven rebounds to go with five blocks. … Jae Crowder had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Grizzlies: C/F Joakim Noah made his first start since Feb. 4, 2017. … Ivan Rabb made 6 of 8 shots in the first half to lead Memphis with 13 points at intermission. He ended the night with 15 points. .It was Conley’s 20th 20-point/10-assist game in his career, seven of them this season.
Utah shot a season-high 48 3-pointers in the game, making 18 for 37.5 percent. And the 48 attempts from outside the arc matched the season-high for a Grizzlies opponent.
“Yeah, we shot a lot of 3s,” Snyder said. “We had some guys I thought had good looks across the board when we drove the ball.” He later added: “A lot of the shots came without us being able to get the ball in the paint and drive it first.”
Utah had 10 blocks in the game — five by Gobert — a season high against the Grizzlies. Utah now has seven games with at least 10 blocks. Derrick Favors had two of Utah’s blocks.
Jazz: Host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday
Grizzlies: Host the Orlando Magic on Sunday