Mike Conley was in the building to watch the Grizzlies close out the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday night, hanging out in a luxury box just a couple days after facial surgery to repair multiple fractures following an inadvertent elbow from C.J. McCollum in Game 3.
The big question is when Conley will be back on the court? Memphis tips off against Golden State in the next round on Sunday, and the Grizzlies need his defense against the loaded Warrior backcourt (nothing against Beno Udrih, Courtney Lee, and Nick Calathes, who are doing their best, but it’s not the same).
The answer is nobody knows. And everyone with Memphis is tight-lipped about a potential timeline. That includes Conley, who was interviewed by TNT’s Lewis Johnson and showed a face remained quite swollen. It didn’t look good, but Conley said it was vastly better than it was a couple days ago, after surgery that put two new steel plates in his face.
At some point, the healing will reach a place where he will get cleared by doctors to play in a mask, but when that point is nobody knows exactly. Conley said he hoped to be back “sooner rather than later.”
But looking at his face in this interview, it wouldn’t be a shock for him to miss the first game — or few games — of the next round still. There is still a lot of swelling there, a lot of recovering to do.
Grizzlies eliminate Blazers despite strong performance from Portland’s bench
Say this for the Blazers: they never quit. In the final seconds of their season-ending 99-93 loss to the Grizzlies, they kept playing the fouling game to try and cut the deficit. But despite a huge scoring night from C.J. McCollum off the bench, it wasn’t enough to stop the Mike Conley-less Grizzlies from advancing to a second-round matchup with the Warriors.
Playing without Mike Conley (who was shown a few times on the TNT broadcast, and I would not wish on anyone what’s going on with his fractured face), Memphis turned in a solid, balanced effort that included the resurrection of Courtney Lee (20 points) and a big night from Marc Gasol (26 points and 14 rebounds).
And 38-year-old Vince Carter did this:
Even with Conley’s injury, the Grizzlies were always going to have the upper hand in this series. The Blazers haven’t been the same at either end of the floor since losing Wesley Matthews for the season in March. Arron Afflalo has struggled stepping into a starting role, and there isn’t much else on the wings. They were depending on huge series from LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, and Lillard in particular came up short, shooting just over 40 percent from the field and an atrocious 16.1 percent from three-point range.
McCollum was one of the few bright spots for the Blazers on Wednesday, putting up 33 points and showing legitimate promise as a piece of Portland’s core moving forward. What the rest of that core will look like remains to be seen, and now the big question begins in earnest: has Aldridge played his final game with the Blazers?
In the meantime, we get Warriors-Grizzlies, hopefully with a healthy Conley.
LaMarcus Aldridge: ‘Pressure is on Memphis to close us out’
The second part is likely more true than the first.
No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in NBA history, and this Blazers squad isn’t likely to become the first. They trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter of Game 4, and Lillard only had the breakout game that he did because Mike Conley sat out with a facial injury that later required surgery.
Conley is out again for Game 5, so Lillard (against the likes of Nick Calathes and Beno Udrih) will once again have his opportunities. But there is little margin for error where the Blazers are concerned, and if the team should find itself trailing late in the contest, it will be up to Aldridge at that point to prove his statement’s worth.
Robin Lopez personally customized shoes for Damian Lillard (PHOTOS)
Damian Lillard was among the Blazers who had struggled through the first three games of their playoff series against the Grizzlies, and not surprisingly, all three of them resulted in Portland losses.
Facing elimination on Monday, Lillard was able to return to form to help his team avoid elimination, if only for one more night.
Lillard looked incredible at times, and finished with 32 points on 12-of-23 shooting to lead his team from 10 down in the fourth to a season-saving victory.
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