The Memphis Grizzlies did not just suffer one loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Thursday’s Game 6 tilt at the Grindhouse.
Adding injury to insult, Mike Conley left Game 6 with a hamstring strain, and though he tried to return, eventually left the contest for good a few moments later. And while reports are that Conley will play in Saturday’s deciding Game 7, he is obviously going to be limited in what he can bring to the table as the Grizzlies try to survive and move on to the second round.
Conley was noticeably hobbled when he attempted to return in Game 6, and that should worsen heading into action tomorrow. The point guard acknowledged himself that he probably should not be playing on the hamstring, and was limited in Friday’s practice. This likely means increased minutes for Beno Udrih in the final game of the first round series with OKC.
Besides the horrific image of Udrih chasing around Russell Westbrook defensively for extended periods of time, the injury brings concern for the Memphis offense, which saw its least productive night coincide with their floor general’s early exit from Game 6. Conley leads all players still in the playoffs (sorry, Kemba Walker) in touches per game with 100.2 and time of possession with 9.2 minutes/game. If he is limited in minutes (and ability), as many expect he will be, the Grizzlies will be missing a big part of what they do when they have the ball.
Conley will be forced to be a decoy of sorts if he cannot be effective with the ball. This would lead to the primary ball handler being Udrih, and the Grizzlies would need to rely on secondary facilitators like Marc Gasol and (God forbid) Tony Allen. Gasol is the last appealing option Memphis has to run its offense through, and his passing will be crucial to getting easy looks.
As a James Johnson supporter, it would be interesting to see him get some run as a spark to help alleviate some of the pressure the Thunder will put on the banged-up Conley. Johnson has been an x-factor type of player since he’s joined the Grizzlies, and could make a difference if he’s given extended run.
For now, it looks like Conley will start the game, with support from Udrih off the bench. However, it seems likely that an alternative plan of attack will be needed if the beaten-up guard looks anything like he did for the brief moments we saw him attempt to play post-injury last game. It will be up to coach Dave Joerger to come up with a solution, even if just for this moment, to propel the Grizzlies to the next round.
Even then it is not quite clear that Memphis can overcome the injury to it’s most used player.