The Memphis Grizzlies have learned to listen to floor general Mike Conley. They depend on him to lead the team.
Lately, the Grizz's starting point guard has taken his ability to do that up to another level.
Conley rallied Memphis in a late fourth quarter takeover to breeze pass the Phoenix Suns on Friday (Jan. 10) at FedExForum with a 104-99 victory. Fresh off of a 30-point performance on Tuesday in an overtime loss against the San Antonio Spurs, he tallied a career-tying 31 points along with seven assists. And he didn't commit a single turnover.
The swift-thinking, former first-round draft choice has transformed himself into a well-respected leader. He has learned to merge his athletic skills, quickness and basketball IQ. This has put Conley at the top of his game.
"The guy is just improving and improving," Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph said of Conley. "He's working on his game and getting better and better, and you can tell. He's an All-Star to me. People might say different, but the way he's been playing and carrying us he is."
Conley's penetration into the paint has caused opposing teams to readjust their normal method of defending Memphis' renowned inside game and big-man domination. With center Marc Gasol still out and Tony Allen missing his third consecutive game nursing a sprained wrist, Conley has to spread the ball across the floor and use sound judgment as to when to feed the ball inside to Randolph.
Phoenix led the majority of the game, on top of the Grizzlies by seven (55-48) entering the second half.
"Coach (Dave Joerger) told us at halftime if we keep contesting shots like that, they're not going to be able to hold us, they're not going to be able to keep knocking them down and he was right tonight," reserve James Johnson said. "Today we finally proved playing 48 minutes gets it done no matter what team."
The Grizzlies trailed by two (88-86) with a little less than six minutes left to play. Conley opened his toolbox, pulled out an enormous 20-point jumper to tie the game and led Memphis on a 12-4 run in the last three minutes.
"I think guys have fresh legs and they are looking for me to call on them and feed the ball to them," Conley said of the fourth quarter momentum.
Randolph finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Ed Davis came off the bench with 10 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.
"They are a tough team for us for whatever reason," said Suns head Coach Jeff Hornacek. "Mike Conley made a bunch of great plays at the end of the game. You want to have a chance to win in the fourth quarter. You can't look at their record. They are still a good team. They made plays that we didn't."
The Grizzlies (16-19) have a 3-0 record against the Suns this season. Phoenix was missing their high-performing guard, Eric Bledsoe, who is out with a torn meniscus in his right knee.
Starting point guard Goran Dragic led the Suns with 21 points and eight assists. Markieff Morris came off the bench and pitched in 17 points.
"They are not a good match-up for us," Dragic said. "I think we play well against every team, but only against Memphis there is something. We don't know how to play. It's just a tough situation. They have a lot of good players and good post players. They can score. They can pass.
"Then outside, of course, they have Mike Conley."
NOTE: Up next for the Grizzlies are the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday (June 12th) at FedExForum.