Minnesota Timberwolves guard Mike Conley has never gone this deep in his long NBA career — Andscape

DALLAS – Minnesota Timberwolves guard Mike Conley Jr. was thrilled to finally see the No. 7 written in the top right corner of the dry-erase white board in the visiting locker room at American Airlines Center on Tuesday night.

That No. 7 signified how many wins the Timberwolves needed to claim a first-ever NBA championship. That update came after Minnesota staved off elimination with a 105-100 victory against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals after falling behind 3-0 in the best-of-seven series. To advance, the Timberwolves need to make become the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-0 playoff deficit.

Considering this was the first conference finals win of Conley’s career and the closest he’s ever been to the Finals in 17 seasons, he’s embraced facing the longest of odds.

“This is the biggest game I’ve had in my career,” said Conley, 36, to Andscape after Game 4. “The next game is the biggest game I’ve had in my career. It’s the biggest win. Honestly, it is. If you look at the board and see the 7 up there, that is how many games we have left to win. That is how many we are away from a ring.

“We were just in training camp. Now, we have that No. 7 up there. To me, it’s nothing bigger than that. Each game is bigger and bigger.”

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kyle Anderson (right) talks with guard Mike Conley (left) after receiving a technical foul during the first half in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals against the Dallas Mavericks on May 26 in Dallas.

Gareth Patterson/AP Photo

Conley is the 12th oldest player in an NBA of roughly 450 players. Timberwolves All-Star guard Anthony Edwards was 6 years old when Conley made his NBA debut for the Memphis Grizzlies on Nov. 7, 2007. The average age on Minnesota’s roster in 26.3 years old and the second-oldest player on the team, Rudy Gobert, is six years younger than Conley.

So, what is it like for Conley, a married father of three boys, to play with all these younger guys in a young NBA?

“I am [an OG] to the team. Maybe even to the league. But not personally,” Conley said. “I still feel like I’m a youthful guy running around with these guys and having a good time and loving the game. So, my teammates are definitely keeping me young.”

The comedic Edwards uniquely described the Game 4 performance of Conley while also offering appreciation and respect. The man he affectionately calls “Mike-Mike” and “OG” had 14 points, seven assists, zero turnovers and four steals in 34 minutes on Tuesday.

“Mike-Mike is old as [expletive]. And he was getting downhill laying the ball up. So, shout out to Mike-Mike,” Edwards, 22, said after Game 4 in his postgame press conference. “And he is coming in here with these clown pants on. So, ya’ll will see him in a minute. That’s my OG. That’s my point guard. And I couldn’t ask nothing more from him. So, thank you Mike Conley.”

Conley described the Game 4 win as the greatest of his NBA career. Why?

Well, it was the first time the 2021 NBA All-Star ever won a game in the conference finals. Conley has played in 1,011 NBA regular-season games and 91 postseason games. The last and only other time he played in the conference finals was in 2013 with a young Grizzlies team at the age of 26. “A tough San Antonio Spurs team” swept Conley and the Grizzlies in four games in 2013. The Grizzlies haven’t been to the Western Conference finals since.

Being a part of that 2012-13 Grizzlies team gave him insight into what it is like being a young player in the playoffs on the Timberwolves now. Conley said he didn’t receive any sage advice in the playoffs with Memphis like he is able to give now.

“The majority of us were young in 2013,” Conley said. “Tayshaun Prince was probably the only vet we had that was older. Looking back at it, you could have told me we were going to be back the next year and the year after that. We were only going to get better from there.

“But you never know what happens. We’re fired our coach. We got a new coach. Guys got traded. Guys got signed. Guys got hurt. Seizing the moment is real.”

Minnesota Timberwolves guards Anthony Edwards (left) and guard Mike Conley (right) talk during a game against the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco on Nov. 12, 2023.

Jeff Chiu/AP Photo

Conley is completing the first year of a two-year, $20.7 million contract. Often times, older NBA players in the final year of their contracts are dangled as attractive trade bait due to their expiring deal. The Timberwolves, however, can’t afford to lose their humble elder statesman, floor general, and calm and cool captain in any storm.

Whether in Game 5 or next season, Conley appears priceless for a Timberwolves franchise whose three stars — Edwards, Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns — typically get the headlines. Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch told Andcape that Conley “means everything” to the franchise.

“I can’t state how important he’s been for everything,” Finch said. “An adult in the room. He brought a ready-made connection with Rudy. He’s always whispering in Ant’s ear. And when KAT got hurt, he really upped his scoring because we needed it. Now he has become an important scorer for us.

“For most of the season, he was just trying to make things happen. And then he’s actually one of our best closing options with the ball in his hand. He makes a lot of right plays. But he does a great job of helping Ant in those situations, too. But yeah, I wish we had him when he was 25.”

Said Gobert: “He means so much. His maturity. His leadership. The way he competes and plays, it’s contagious. The young guys watch Mike, and he’s 36 and he’s big on every play.”

In case you were wondering, Conley does not play to retire anytime soon. In fact, playing 20-plus seasons is a goal. This mindset came after taking advice from ex-Grizzlies teammate Vince Carter. The soon-to-be Hall of Famer announced his retirement in 2020 at the age of 43 following 22 NBA seasons.

“One piece of advice I got from Vince Carter was not to put a number on it, man. Go until you can’t,” Conley said. “And obviously, I’d like to achieve certain milestones. You want to get to 20 (seasons). If you’re this close, why not? But at the same time, you just try to get as many as you can.”

Conley also has a “why not” approach to his Timberwolves needing to win four consecutive games to earn a Finals berth. That belief comes from the total margin of victory in the competitive West finals against Dallas being a combined 18 points, with each game decided by single digits, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Timberwolves are now 3-0 when facing elimination, including beating the reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets in Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference semifinals. Conley believes that the Timberwolves haven’t played one solid all-around game in the Western Conference finals.

Conley has told Edwards and Towns that “this is our moment.” More than anything, Conley believes Minnesota, respectfully, is just the better team. Considering how far Conley has come in his NBA career, there is no reason to stop believing until the Mavericks can prove otherwise.

“It’s one game. Game 5 is Game 7,” Conley said. “This is all we got. Keep our mentality like that. Don’t look at the circus that surrounds us and all the stuff you been hearing. Keep the faith more than anything. The testament with the guys tonight is that we truly didn’t believe this was our last game …

“This doesn’t come around very often. So, when you get this chance, give everything you got. Don’t be afraid to fail.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.

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