Mike Conley Jr. has been in the shadows for much of his basketball career. During his playground come-up, he was probably in the umbrella of his Olympic gold medalist track and field pops.
In high school, Conley was 103-7 in four years at Lawrence North High School, became a high school All-American but was the sidekick to AAU and prep teammate Greg Oden. As a freshman, at Ohio State, Conley was tertiary to Oden and Daequan Cook.
During his first few seasons in Memphis, Conley played Tito to big men Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and forward Rudy Gay pushed Conley even further out of focus. Same old story.
However, in the aftermath of Gay’s trade to Toronto, the offense was left in Mike Conley’s veteran hands. While, the rest of the NBA world loudly questioned who would pick up the scoring slack in Gay’s void, Conley succinctly assumed more scoring responsibilities within the offense.
On Monday night, after Gasol was named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, Conley dropped a playoff career-high 28 points against the franchise that has haunted him for consecutive postseasons.
In Game 1 of the 2012 first round series ended with Paul knocked down two free throws to nullify Conley’s 5-for-5 shooting from behind the arc to give the Clippers a 99-98 victory.
Conley bounced back with 19 points and six assists in a Game 2 win, but Paul was once again the story, pouring in 29 points. In Game 4, Conley scored a then-career playoff high 25 points in a loss that put the Grizzlies in a 3-1 series hole. In the fourth quarters of that series, Conley shot 25 percent from the field and his struggles carried over to the regular season.
Conley nearly overshadowed his nine fourth quarter points with his dish to Gasol under the basket for the game-tying flush. For the first time in his tortured career against Chris Paul’s Clippers, Conley was about to deal a significant blow to Paul and the designated Conley-stopper Eric Bledsoe following last season’s elimination after a seven-game series at the hands of the Clippers.
Unfortunately, the Grizzlies left the Clippers with too much time, and Paul milked the clock before driving to bank in a game-winning basket.
"The way Conley was blowing by me at the other end, the least I could do was make a couple shots," Paul said gleefully after the game.
Instead, Conley once again faded to the background as Paul heroics led highlights.
Heading back to Memphis, Paul will dominate the radio, social media, television and print storylines, but along the 94 feet of hardwood, Conley looks like he’s done getting swept under the rug. The question is, what's he gonna do about it?