By MATTHEW COLES, Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mike Conley is finally starting to feel like himself again.
Conley, who missed most of last season with a heel injury and just began practicing full speed in September, scored a season-high 28 points to lead the Memphis Grizzlies over the short-handed Utah Jazz 110-100 on Friday night.
“Some timing is still off a bit with the shot and the legs and getting the body back together, but tonight’s game, as opposed to the first time we played them, is night and day,” Conley said.
Aiding his return has been the steady presence of teammate Marc Gasol.
“We’ve played together so much and we just play the game the right way,” Conley said. “It’s easy to come back when you have a guy like that who knows where you need the ball and gets the best opportunity for your team to score.”
Conley and Gasol, who had 17 points, orchestrated a motion offense with deft passing that kept the Jazz guessing and out of position as the Grizzlies shot 51 percent to win their third straight game.
“Once you make shots, everything gets easier. But we played unselfish, exploiting that pick-and-roll and mixing rolls with pops,” said Gasol, who added 10 rebounds and seven assists, often initiating from the high post.
Utah played without star guard Donovan Mitchell, the team’s leading scorer. He sat out with a right hamstring strain.
The Jazz missed their creative star on offense, and Conley said: “It definitely helped that Donovan didn’t play.”
But the team pinned this loss on failing to stop the Grizzlies.
“Our group has to stake its claim on the defensive end,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “No matter who’s out there, that’s something that we can control. … The defensive end is where we have to put our focus.”
Ricky Rubio paced the Jazz with 22 points, and Jae Crowder scored 12 of his 18 in the fourth quarter. But he couldn’t draw Utah closer than seven after Memphis’ big run at the beginning of the period.
“I found my shot. I knew Donovan was out, so I had to be a little more aggressive in looking for my shot. It worked in the beginning,” Rubio said.
The Jazz led by 12 in the first half but the Grizzlies used a 30-18 third quarter to move in front.
Joe Ingles, who had 19 points and became the seventh Jazz player with 500 3-pointers, sank a 3 on Utah’s first possession of the fourth to get within two. But the Grizzlies scored 11 consecutive points, including back-to-back 3s by Gasol and MarShon Brooks.
Shelvin Mack, who played for Utah from 2015-17, had 19 points — the most he’s scored since he was with the Jazz.
“When the shots are there I’ve got to take them,” Mack said. “Mike’s able to drive and make plays for me.”
Utah has dropped all three home games this season, including a 92-84 loss to Memphis just 10 days ago. The last time the Jazz started 0-3 at home was Ty Corbin’s final season as coach in 2013-14.
DRAWING RUDY FROM THE RIM
Several times, the Grizzlies forced Utah’s switching defense into uncomfortable matchups. “We did a good job of taking advantage of their switches,” Conley said. “They’re a very long team, especially with Rudy Gobert down there. When we got him out there guarding a guard, we got penetration and kick-out and that opened up the paint.”
THE TWO-MAN GAME
Gasol said it took all of “22 seconds” to feel comfortable with Conley in their first pickup game together this fall. “We read basketball the same way. He sees the same angles that I see. Once we look at each other, we know what each other should do,” Gasol said.
Grizzlies: JaMychal Green (jaw) and Chandler Parsons (right knee) missed the game with injuries. … Conley hit a stumbling bank shot from 30 feet out at the halftime buzzer.
Jazz: Grayson Allen made his first career start and scored nine points. … Alec Burks missed his second game with a left hand sprain. … Five players had three fouls at halftime as 31 fouls were called in the first two periods. … The Jazz made 14 of 25 free throws.
Grizzlies: Visit Phoenix on Sunday night.
Jazz: Visit Denver on Saturday night.
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