(Eds: Updates with quotes, details. With AP Photos.)
By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - The Los Angeles Clippers are focusing much more of their attention on Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, and he has only himself to blame.
Conley is having a bit of a coming out party in this first-round series, scoring a postseason-best 28 points in Game 2, a performance he followed by handing out 10 assists with three steals and no turnovers, which hadn't been done in the NBA playoffs since John Stockton in 2001.
He topped that in Game 4, setting a Grizzlies' postseason record Saturday with 13 assists, 15 points and two turnovers.
Clippers guard Chris Paul says Conley is approaching elite point guard status in the NBA.
"The team goes as he goes," Paul said. "I think that's what their team realizes. When he plays well, they play well. They feed off his energy. I try to contain him as much as possible, but Mike is one of those guys year in and year out just keeps getting better, and he's a handful."
Paul said that before Conley handed out 23 assists over two games as the Grizzlies evened up this series at 2-all with Game 5 on Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
With his play the past two games, Conley became just the eighth player since the 1992 postseason to hand out at least 23 assists with no more than two turnovers over a two-game span in the same playoffs.
Rajon Rondo had 27 assists with two turnovers for Boston last year. Paul did it twice with New Orleans in 2008 with 23 assists and one followed by 28 assists and two turnovers. Jason Kidd had 25 assists and two turnovers for Phoenix in 2001, while Mark Jackson had 28 assists and two turnovers in 1998 with 24 assists and two in 1999. Muggsy Bogues had 23 assists and two turnovers for Charlotte in 1993 and Terry Porter had 25 and two turnovers for Portland in 1992 according to STATS.
Conley insists he's just trying to match up against Paul and do the best he can.
"I have to match him ... in order for us to win," Conley said.
The six-year veteran has blossomed for the Grizzlies since Memphis traded away leading scorer Rudy Gay on Jan. 30 to Toronto. Since the All-Star break, Conley averaged 17.6 points in March and 17 points in April as he scored 20 or more points in 10 of the final 17 games of the regular season. He also led the NBA with 174 steals this season, breaking his own team record by 30.
"He's played well in the regular season," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said Sunday. "And I think after the first game the people coming out and biting him in the back again. But you just have to go out and play and compete."
Conley has his teammates' confidence.
"We expect Mike to make the right play pretty much every time," center Marc Gasol said.
Conley has performed well enough in this series that the Clippers have made defensive adjustments trying to corral the 6-foot-1 guard.
"I've got to get used to them playing that way, certain ways and being schemed because I haven't had to deal with that in my career having so many guys on our team to scheme against," Conley said. "It's something new for me, so hopefully I'll adjust."
Not that Conley is complaining. He was the No. 4 overall draft selection out of Ohio State in 2007, and the Grizzlies rewarded him with a five-year, $40 million extension in November 2010.
"It's good to have a little bit of respect around here, but I'm just trying to get better as the days go on," Conley said.
Conley is a speedy guard, and his ability to dart through the lane for easy layups or quick passes to Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol have hurt the Clippers. Los Angeles coach Vinny Del Negro said they have to be able to control Conley a little bit.
"If he plays on the perimeter, that's better for us," Del Negro said. "But he's capable of making shots as well. We got to pick our spots with him, and we know how important he is to kind of running their team."
Conley didn't let going 1 of 9 from the floor in Game 3's 94-82 win distract him. Not only did he hit his four free throw attempts, he also grabbed six rebounds and blocked two shots playing more than 37 minutes. In Game 4, Conley had seven of his assists by halftime. He also hit two of his three 3-pointers.
The Grizzlies haven't had a last-second shot yet in this series. Critics have wondered who would take that shot, but Paul has an idea who will have the ball.
"There was once upon a time if the game was on the line, you knew it was going to Rudy or Zach for the game-winner," Paul said. "Now they go to Mike, and rightfully so. I think that shows how much confidence they have in him."
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker