SALT LAKE CITY — Mike Conley endured many frustrating moments during his first season after being traded to Utah from Memphis. Everything from injuries to struggles absorbing the Jazz offensive system kept him from finding a rhythm for much of last season.
Conley is not feeling that same frustration in his second season with Utah. He made seven 3-pointers and scored a season-high 33 points to lead the Jazz to a 106-100 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night.
Conley consistently made the right reads on offence as evidenced by his seven assists. It added up to one big play after another for the veteran point guard.
“He just did a great job of controlling the whole game and just making big plays for us,” forward Derrick Favours said.
Conley came into the season with a focus on building off his solid performances inside the NBA bubble. In a short time, he’s already demonstrating his growth. He credited Utah coach Quin Snyder with giving him a chance to adapt and learn.
“He stuck true to me,” Conley said. “He’s given me nothing but confidence.”
Donovan Mitchell added 15 points for the Jazz. Favours chipped in with 14 points and 11 rebounds off the bench as Utah earned its first home victory of the season.
Paul George had 25 points, eight rebounds and six steals to lead Los Angeles. Kawhi Leonard added 20 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists. The Clippers shot just 38.8% from the field.
Los Angeles trailed by as many as 20 in the second half before rallying in the fourth quarter. The Clippers cut Utah’s lead to 95-94 after George drained a 3-pointer with 3:15 left.
Rudy Gobert answered with a layup and then Conley sank his seventh 3 with 1:49 remaining to keep Los Angeles from overtaking the Jazz.
“This is a hard-working team,” George said. “We play hard. We never count ourselves out. We continued fighting all the way to the end and gave ourselves a chance.”
The Clippers became sluggish on offence as the first quarter progressed. Los Angeles shot just 25% from the field during that 12-minute stretch and scored only two baskets after taking a 13-11 lead on a 3-pointer from Nicolas Batum midway through the quarter.
That opened the door for the Jazz to surge ahead late in the quarter, and Utah had no trouble finding its shot. The Jazz shot 52% from the floor during the opening period.
Utah scored baskets on seven straight possessions and nine of 10 to fuel a 24-4 run over a 5 1/2 -minute stretch spanning the first and second quarters. Conley scored five of those baskets — including Utah’s final three field goals of the first quarter — and totalled 12 points in the first quarter alone.
Jordan Clarkson and Conley punctuated the run with back-to-back 3s, giving the Jazz a 37-19 lead a minute into the second quarter.
“Conley was great. He was special,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We did a great job on Donovan and (Bojan) Bogdanovic, giving different looks and coverages … but Conley’s shot-making made the difference tonight.”
The Clippers nearly erased the deficit before halftime. Los Angeles scored on four straight possessions, bookended by baskets from Leonard, to trim the deficit to 43-42.
Utah weathered the surge and scored three straight baskets to end the half, capped by a dunk from Favours . The Jazz then opened the second half with three unanswered baskets and extended their lead to 67-47 on a corner 3 from Conley midway through the third quarter.
“It was a fun night and a night we definitely needed,” Conley said.
Clippers: George shot 6 of 21 from the field. … Leonard totalled 10 rebounds in his first three games of the season. … Los Angeles finished with just eight turnovers.
Jazz: Joe Ingles set season highs in assists (seven) and rebounds (eight) to go with 11 points. … The NBA fined Clarkson $25,000 for shoving a referee during the second quarter of Utah’s 106-95 loss to Phoenix on Thursday. … The Jazz outscored the Clippers 46-30 in the paint.
EMBRACING HIS ROLE
Favours notched his first double-double in his second stint with the Jazz, finishing with season highs in points and rebounds. Friday was also the first time this season the veteran forward had more than 10 rebounds in a game. He averaged 5.5 rebounds through his previous four.
Favours ’ defensive mindset has bolstered Utah’s second unit. Coming off the bench is a new role for him, but one he has fully embraced since his return.
“Credit to him, he’s always ready to play,” Snyder said. “Whatever you ask him to do, he’s going to embrace (it).”
DIFFERENT KIND OF MASK
Leonard played his second straight game wearing a protective facemask. The facial apparatus has been in place since he missed two games after taking an inadvertent elbow from teammate Serge Ibaka on Christmas. The blow caused a nasty laceration. Until the stitches come out, the mask stays on.
The Clippers forward has averaged 24 points, 9.5 rebounds and 8.0 assists in the mask. But that doesn’t mean he’s feeling comfortable in it.
“I don’t know how you get used to wearing something like that on your head,” Leonard said. “I don’t want to wear it but I need to protect myself and it’ll be off soon.”
Clippers: At Phoenix on Sunday.
Jazz: At San Antonio on Sunday.
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John Coon, The Associated Press