The Memphis Grizzlies achieved a great deal on Saturday night with a 115-109 win at the Portland Trail Blazers, opening up a 3-0 lead in their first-round NBA playoff series with a chance to complete the sweep on Tuesday. But it might have come at a cost.
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Already nursing a limiting foot injury, star point guard Mike Conley left Game 3 with 4:03 remaining in the third quarter, shortly after taking an inadvertent elbow to the head from Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. You can take a look at the play here:
Conley went back to the locker room for attention and tests before being taken to a local medical center for further evaluation. ESPN cameras caught Conley holding a bloody towel to his face after his removal from the game:
Mike Conley Jr. went into the locker room after taking an unintentional shot to the face. pic.twitter.com/92UuhTgCGZ
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) April 26, 2015
Grizzlies TV sideline reporter Rob Fischer reported on Twitter that Conley's left eye was swollen, although the specific injury is not known at this time. Conley missed the final four games of the regular season with an unspecified right heal injury that is most likely related to plantar fasciitis, and he'd probably be resting right not if it weren't the postseason. Instead, he averaged 17 points on 54.5 percent shooting in 26.5 minutes per game in this series' first two games and put up 14 points (6-of-14 FG) and four assists in 26 minutes before leaving Game 3.
Conley's departure appeared to put the Grizzlies at a disadvantage. Although they led 74-64 at the time, Memphis was without backup point guard and Game 1 star Beno Udrih for Game 3 due to a sprained right ankle. That left third-choice point Nick Calathes as the lone remaining point guard, and he played the final 16 minutes (of his 27 total) as the Grizzlies pulled out the wire-to-wire victory. Portland managed to cut the lead to 94-91 on a Nicolas Batum three-pointer with 2:23 remaining, but two Tony Allen buckets at the rim sandwiched two Zach Randolph free throws for a 6-0 Memphis run over the next minute-plus to build up a comfortable lead. The Blazers attempted to extend the game with fouls, but the Grizzlies missed only four of their 43 free-throw attempts all game and held on with little problem.
Conley's status will not necessarily affect the Grizzlies for this series no matter how much time he misses. The shorthanded Blazers added Arron Afflalo and Chris Kaman back into the rotation for Game 3 but got another poor performance from All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, who went 6-of-18 from the field for 21 points in 45 minutes. Damian Lillard improved after a nightmarish opening two games to score 22 on 9-of-17 shooting, but he tailed off after a strong first half. The Blazers look too thin to stay with the deeper Grizzlies and aren't getting the required play from their stars. They can take Game 4 on Monday, but it's hard to imagine them winning this series.
However, a lengthy absence for Conley would seriously hurt the Grizzlies if they manage to move on to play the Golden State Warriors in the conference semifinals. The Warriors boast the best backcourt in the NBA and obliterated the Conley-less Grizzlies before resting their starters in the season's final week. Keep an eye on upcoming reports, because they could determine the Grizzlies' fate this postseason.
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