PREVIEW: Mike Conley OK with ‘villain’ role as Utah Jazz face Memphis Grizzlies in Game 4

May 29, 2021; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) dribbles around Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) during the fourth quarter during game three in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The past and present of Memphis basketball will be on display again Monday night when Mike Conley and the Utah Jazz visit the Ja Morant-led Grizzlies for Game 4 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series.

Conley thrilled his old fans and disappointed most of the Grizzlies faithful with a turn-back-the-block effort in Game 3, contributing 27 points, eight assists and six rebounds to a 121-111 victory Saturday night that gave the Jazz a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Morant, drafted to be the club’s new point guard after Memphis dealt Conley to Utah in July of 2019, countered with 28 points and seven assists in his predecessor’s homecoming, but they weren’t enough to prevent a second straight Grizzlies defeat.

“Sometimes you live long enough to become the villain,” Conley admitted afterward. “Just got to take that in stride, continue to do what I do and have fun with that.”

Conley left Memphis as the franchise’s all-time leader in games, points, assists, steals and 3-pointers. But he played in only 56 playoff games in those 12 years, and his best outing was 35 points, eight assists and nine rebounds — four years ago against San Antonio.

He wore jersey No. 11 in that game. Fittingly, the Grizzlies issued No. 12 to their next in line to point guard stardom — Morant.

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Conley seemed as excited to be on the same floor as his replacement as he was to come away a winner on Saturday.

“Just seeing a guy that’s so talented — he’s a young superstar in the league — wearing the jersey that I’m so used to wearing, getting the cheers from the crowd that I’m so used to hearing … It’s surreal,” Conley gushed. “It’s like full circle. You never thought that it would be this way.”

With Conley and Morant basically negating one another, the difference in Game 3 was the supporting casts. Conley got 12 or more points of help from five teammates, while Morant received 12 or more from just two guys.

In the end, Utah overcame a 50-43 deficit on the boards with superior shooting both overall (49.4 percent to 43.0 percent) and on 3-pointers (57 points to 39 points).

“I feel like we got good shots,” Dillon Brooks said after a 1-for-7 effort on 3-pointers. “We just missed them.”

As the result of a 16-7 advantage in offensive rebounds, the Grizzlies got 19 more shots than the visitors, but made just three more. That was more than offset by Utah’s 19-13 advantage in 3-pointers and 22-12 dominance in free throw points.

The team that’s shot the best overall percentage has won all three games. The same is true of 3-pointers, where the Grizzlies made 35.0 percent in their Game 1 surprise, but a cumulative 32.8 percent in their two subsequent losses.

Memphis ranked just 20th in the NBA during the regular season in 3-point field-goal percentage at 35.6. Utah was fourth at 38.9.

–Field Level Media