Last night's heartbreaker elicited more "circus shot" exclamations from Bolerjack and more "How the hell did that go in?" responses from me, than any game in recent memory. Millsap's over the shoulder bank, Harris' running three pointer and one, and of course, Calderon's hail mary from nearly half court. Overall? Aside from the sting of defeat, what a fun and exciting game to watch.
Read the rest of the recap after the jump.
I'm not going to delve into who the superstars for the game were, Amar covered that in The Quintet, plus we all know who the MVP of the game was. That's right. Linas Kleiza. Its difficult to swallow that some players just have it out for certain teams, but for some reason the phenomena exists. There are Jazz players that love to have big games against certain teams, thus the universe would not be in harmony if the opposite didn't happen as well.
If you watched nothing but the first quarter of this game you would have thought the Jazz were going to cruise to another easy win. However, this was not the case as the Raptors, in a very Jazz like manner, fought back by playing a very physical game. The Jazz seemed content to just coast by through the game. You could see it in stretches through the entire contest. Every time the Jazz squad decided to clamp down and get back to the type of operations that had brought them their 10 wins, they were able to go on runs that seemed to come quite easily, and end up with a double-digit lead.
This is what happened in the 3rd quarter, which the Jazz won 25-19, but from the opening of the 4th quarter they were back to attempting to coast to the 11th win. The Raptors never relented, thus it took an amazing shot from Paul Millsap to extend the Jazz's chance to win into overtime.
Then things got tricky. The lack of substitutions in the overtime's was confusing, at best. Clearly, Hayward had no legs under him and Harris' were losing strength fast. Miles did come in for one or two possessions, but it would not last. There was nothing gained in subbing Hayward back into the game, because during the two overtimes his play can only be described as passive-aggressive. He was dribble penetrating and attempting to make things happen, but it looked very forced and it became obvious he had no intention of taking it all the way to rim. Further, on the perimeter, and this is where Harris comes back into the fold, the two of them looked downright frightened to take a shot. I guess a couple of airballs will do that to a player. We can only postulate that the decision to leave Hayward in was perhaps one that would benefit the Jazz down the road. Yes the experience is invaluable, however the bigger picture is that to punish a player that happens to be struggling to make a shot, yet is dumping all of his energy into all the other aspects of the game, could be crushing to his waning confidence.
In the end the game was most certainly lost on the free throw line. It seems rather contrived to leave the weight of the loss on the freebies, as there were numerous other plays that, had they gone the other direction, the Jazz come out on top, but there is a reason that free throws are weighted so heavily in advanced statistics: They're free.
However upset Jazz fans may be about the outcome of this game, it can't be overlooked that they were without their top scorer. This game was also a very good testament to the partnership that has blossomed between Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap this season. Something seemed a little off. Could it be that Jefferson is the defensive anchor for the starters? Perhaps that's a stretch, but what is undeniable is that he and Sap have found a way to work well together as both hold a defensive rating of 98.
One thing we can't deny is that this game was fantastically entertaining. Impossible shots, heroic efforts, a gritty opponent, an amazing shot to tie the game, all the drama we could ever hope for in a sports contest and THAT is why we love this game so much.