This night was circled on the calendar within minutes after the NBA League Offices released the schedules. For the Memphis Grizzlies fans, on Friday night November 15 2019, a favorite son of the city, Mike Conley was coming home.
For 12 record setting, franchise defining seasons, Mike Conley had given his entire life to this city and in return the city embraced — better yet, claimed— him as one of their own.
This night was circled, not as an expected win, nor a matchup against a heated rival. This night was supposed to be about honoring Captain Clutch.
FedExForum was packed and as Mike Conley was introduced in the starting lineup for the opposing team for the first time ever, the Memphis faithful erupted, perhaps expressing and experiencing the closure they never got. At the first timeout, the Conley tribute video was played, giving Mike that one last moment to be honored and thanked for his years on Beale Street.
It is not surprising the Conley struggled out of the gate, missing his first four shots. The emotions and adrenaline of the night surely got the best of him — excusable, understandable and expected.
There was one person in the arena that had no care for the franchise’s greatest player’s homecoming on this night.
And the Chosen One made his statement tonight against the Chosen Son:
HE’S GOT NEXT.
In the quarter and a half it took Conley to register his first bucket, Ja was off to the races with 7 points and 2 assists in nine minutes of play.
After Conley’s first points, it turned into a one on one showcase between the two point guards the next couple possessions in the second quarter, with Ja getting the final word with this:
The first half ended with the Grizzlies leading by 5. In the first half, a total of 4 free throws were shot by both teams combined. The pace was in favor of the Grizzlies early and Ja was thriving in transition.
The Utah Jazz are the modern day Grit n Grind team in the NBA and that is not the style this young Grizz roster wants to play. Once being notorious for dragging their opponents into the mud, the third quarter of this game saw the Jazz do that the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies were outscored 34-24 in the third quarter as the Jazz had success slowing the game down and getting to the free throw line early and often.
If you were to look at the box score, you would see that the Jazz only score 31 in the third quarter, and this is where rule changes matter.
As the two teams rested at the intermission between the final two quarters, the score changed from 82-77 to 79-77. There is a new rule in the NBA that requires all three point shots to be reviewed to confirm they were actually three pointers. During this review, the league took a three point shot from Jeff Green off the board because he actually had his heel on the out-of-bounds line.
That rule change obviously mattered significantly, as the Grizz only won by one.
In the final four minutes of the game, Ja Morant either scored or assisted on every bucket the Grizzlies would score.
Ja assists Jaren Jackson Jr. — 101-100
Ja makes 1 of 2 free throws — 102-100
Ja assists Jae Crowder 3 — 105-102
Ja makes a floater — 107-105
Mike Conley ended up with 15 points on his return to Memphis, but was greatly outshined by young phenom Ja Morant who had 25 points and 8 assists. The Memphis Grizzlies always went as Mike Conley went, but tonight Memphis went as Ja Morant went.
As we celebrated the past, the future became the present. The great times of old could soon be forgotten because Ja let Memphis, Utah and the rest of the league know tonight,