No, I didn't mix up that quote from Rocky IV. AK is a machine. Screw the fans. You're not the X factor, AK is the X factor. He's playing out of his mind and right now you could ask any Jazz fan, "Should we give AK another $15M a year after his deal is up?" and they would all say yes.
He sealed the win almost by himself last night in the fourth quarter. After AK's put-back with a little under 11 minutes still in the period, the Jazz led 83-77. The Jazz would then go on to score only 3 points over the next three minutes yet still had a 6-point lead as they held the Mavs to the same.
That's when the Jazz pulled away in large part to AK. After a CJ Miles drive gave them a bit of a cushion, Andrei was on Dirk while Nowitski came out to set a pick on Williams. They ended up switching men. As Barea attempted to get the ball to Dirk, AK anticipated the pass perfectly, stuck out those long mitts, and raced for the layup while drawing the foul from Barea.
The next trip up the court for the Mavs was another turnover after Terry got stripped and the ball came to Millsap. Deron pushed it and got the ball to Matthews for the layup and another AND-1. That was the ball game.
The icing on the cake play just a short time later when Millsap blocked Terry on one end and as the Jazz brought it back up, Deron found a trailing AK for the one-handed hammer dunk.
Andrei stole the next two Jason Kidd passes for good measure and the Mavs pulled most of their started shortly after.
When the night was done, Kirilenko had 13 & 8 to go along with 3 assists and 4 steals. 7 of those points and 3 of the steals came in the fourth. He would have had 15 points but one of his dunks was waived off after he grabbed a Matthews airball under basket and just had the ball on the tips of his finger as the shot clock hit 0. The man had the biggest, goofiest grins afterward and it was great.
If AK was the closer, then Millsap was the starter who went 8 1/3 innings. He was killing it to start the game. He had 12 points in that first quarter on 4/4 shooting from the field and 4/4 from the line. At the break he had 16 & 3 and finished the game with 25 & 9. His 3 blocks in the were huge defensive stops. The first one came with the Jazz up just 5, 85-80 when a Drew Gooden shot got sent the other way. The second was the spark that led to AK's dunk and foul. He then blocked Gooden again after the starters had checked out for good measure.
I don't know if we can appreciate Millsap right now. I don't know if we appreciate having both Millsap and Boozer. They're both beasts. They really do need to be playing together more and for now that looks like reduced minutes for Memo.
Deron looked a bit rusty to start the game shooting-wise, but he still finished 7-15 on the night for 18 points as well as 15 assists. He nearly had a triple-double with 7 rebounds. It's a good thing when 18 & 15 seems common place and when his play doesn't even get top billing in a recap.
CJ and Wes Matthews contributed well last night. CJ had a couple of shot selections that were questionable. What wasn't questionable though was his +19 and Matthews' +24. Matthews locked down Terry in the fourth quarter after the Jet looked like he was going to go on a scoring spree with 8 third-quarter points.
Finally, a lot of credit has to be given to Sloan for his lineups and matchups that he's had on the floor. Korver didn't play this entire game. You would never have guessed that Kyle would get a DNP-CD or that Memo wouldn't see any PT in the fourth. That's what's happened though and it worked. He's making all of the right calls and instilling some confidence in his players. Jerry's never going to be a rah, rah type of coach but he's motivating them in his own away.
Despite the individual accolades mentioned here, this is one of the best stretches of a team effort that I can remember from this squad. Even in past Januaries where they've gotten hot, and my memory has faded a lot since then, I don't remember them having this much fun and playing this well meshed. Deron and AK are giving each other man hugs. Everyone is playing well and contributing.
The fourth quarter last night was something to behold. After getting burned by Dirk in their first meeting of the year in the fourth quarter, this was about as opposite as you can get. The Mavericks had only 16 points in the fourth and only 10 when their starters were subbed out. The Jazz held them to 5 field goals and 3 of those came from the garbage time players. That is remarkable. They completely took Dirk out of the game in that quarter and everyone else for that matter.
I hope you're enjoying these games. It's hard not to when they're winning. They're playing the game with that unselfish and college basketball-type enthusiasm that you don't see often. Not only are they winning, but they're creating a hundred highlight reels in the process with AK getting about 95% of them. When the next loss comes I hope they still play the game with the same fervor that they are now. I hope they don't dwell on the loss and instead look forward to the next game as another chance to be great.