After missing his team's loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday, Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley has been upgraded from "doubtful" to "questionable" for Tuesday's Game 2, increasing his chances of suiting up for the Grizz a week and a half after suffering a facial fracture that required surgical repair and left his face badly bruised and swollen.
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Conley has yet to participate in full-contact drills, but he went through "his most extensive workout with the team" since his injury on Monday and told ESPN.com's Michael Wallace that he was hopeful he could give it a go in Game 2:
"I believe I will," Conley said when asked if he will play Tuesday. "But I believed that for the last week. So I'm really hopeful. They tell me I can play once I'm ready, and I feel like I'm ready to go. It's just on me." [...]
"This was the most he's done today," [Grizzlies coach Dave] Joerger said of Conley's practice work. "There's life, and then there's competing. These guys care about one another and love one another. They want to give us our best chance. Having a healthy Mike Conley certainly helps that. There are things we've got to balance, and if he's medically able to compete, then he should have that opportunity."
After being held out of Game 1 due to issues with light sensitivity in his left eye, Conley's been working his way back to the lineup and wearing a clear protective mask as he does so:
He's still getting comfortable with the mask, though, telling reporters that it obscured his vision somewhat while shooting and that "it gets kind of hot in there, kind of foggy." Still, he remained hopeful Monday, saying that he felt his timing coming back and that he believed he could get back on the court and contribute.
“Everything I’m used to doing on the basketball court I feel like I can do, visually,” Conley said Monday, according to Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
Conley's presence could provide a massive boost to a Grizzlies team that looked utterly unable to short-circuit the Warriors' high-powered offense, coming up at least one perimeter defender short against the likes of newly crowned Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry (22 points on 8-for-18 shooting, 4-for-8 from 3-point range, seven assists) and All-Star Klay Thompson (18 points on 8-for-16 shooting, 2-for-5 from deep, six assists), and one playmaker short (backups Nick Calathes and Beno Udrih combined for seven points on 3-for-11 shooting with three assists and four turnovers) against the Warriors' top-ranked defense.
All year long, Memphis has soared with Conley on the floor and scuffled when he's been unavailable, as the Grizzlies' ground-and-pound offense scored five fewer points per 100 possessions with Conley off the court during the regular season. The disparity's only been more pronounced during the playoffs, with the Grizzlies outscoring the opposition — granted, the wounded and outgunned Portland Trail Blazers, but still — by 32 points in 79 minutes with Conley on the court, and Memphis getting outscored by 13 points in the 209 minutes they've been without him through six games.
He's the straw that stirs the Grizzlies' drink, which is why Memphis so desperately wants to get him back on the court ... and why Memphis is so terrified of what could happen if he goes back too soon. From Geoff Calkins of the Commercial Appeal:
If Conley plays, he will be greatly diminished. He will be getting his legs back, and his timing. He will play limited minutes. He will be playing in the wake of significant surgery.
Indeed, it’s scary, at some level, isn’t it? Grizzlies fans everywhere will be holding their breath. And not just because they don’t want to lose Conley for more of the series. Because they don’t want anything to happen to Mike’s broken face! [...]
But there is a reason for Conley to try and make at least a limited return Tuesday, even apart from trying to win the game. The sooner he gets out there, the sooner he can stop thinking about being out there. The sooner he plays with the mask, the sooner he can stop thinking about the mask.
In other words: If Conley plays Tuesday he will not be himself. But playing Tuesday might help him be more like himself Saturday, in Game 3 at FedExForum.
We know this much: If Conley is judged to be good to go for Game 2, he'll be thrown into the fire right away.
Dave Joerger will start Mike Conley if he plays.— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) May 5, 2015
... meaning we ought to know pretty quickly whether the versatile and valuable two-way point guard's as close to being able to help as he hopes, or as far away as Grizz fans fear.
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