Less than two weeks after undergoing surgery that placed two metal plates around his left eye to repair a fractured socket, Mike Conley led the Memphis Grizzlies to Game 2 road win against the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors. He scored 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting in just 27 minutes of play, and frustrated Steph Curry – on a night he received the MVP trophy – into 7-of-19 from the field on the other end of the floor.
Conley’s was one of the gutsiest post-season performances in recent memory, and had the Grizzlies thinking upset mere days after they appeared wholly outmatched. Memphis, obviously, ultimately failed to capitalize on momentum gleaned from their point guard’s return and beat the Warriors. But the spirit of Dave Joerger’s team was never lost even as its championship hopes were, and Conley will serve as a constant reminder of that reality throughout the early going of 2015-16.
As the 27-year-old told the Associated Press earlier this week, he’ll continue wearing the protective mask this season that will forever live in playoff lore.
“I’m going to keep it for a little bit,” the Grizzlies point guard said. “I feel more comfortable with it on whenever I’m playing because I already know I get hit in my face all the time. I’m a little dude, so I’m around elbows and stuff all the time.
“So I’m going to wear it until I feel comfortable.”
Conley didn’t play as well in the four games following his masked debut as he did in his triumphant return to the lineup. The lefty averaged 13.4 points, 5.8 assists, and 1.6 steals per game on just 38.3 percent from the field after his surgery, numbers well below his season-long marks. Related: Memphis was facing Golden State, who just happened to field the best defense in basketball last season.
There’s no reason, basically, to expect that the mask had any negative effect on Conley’s performance. If that were the case, he surely wouldn’t be wearing it to start this season – risk of re-injury be damned. Conley, after all, has already proven his toughness when the stakes were highest, and we can’t wait to watch him do it again – in a mask! – on a nightly basis when basketball finally begins later this month.