"There's that man!"
Matt Harpring on Paul Millsap
Two things to take away from this game. One, Millsap is beast. Not a beast, just beast. Make no mistake, this was a career-game and might not be approached again. The number of points, clutch shots, and magnitude of the game puts this one on a plane by itself.
Second, this team is going to drive every Jazz fan damn crazy. Who would blame you either after the performance from last night? Seriously, look at the game thread comments. We were going out of our minds on both ends of the spectrum.
The first half was another awful half of 32 points, something that we've seen too much this season. It was just another uninspired half where it didn't seem very many looked interested in the game.
And the Jazz needed their near-perfect play and to get the breaks that they did in the second half to overcome the putrid first two quarters.
Millsap apparently took things to heart because he took over the game. I would like say that he literally put the team on his back, but whereas he didn't strap 4 other guys Atlas-style across his shoulders (though he could have if it was permitted under NBA rules!), I can't say that. Yet it doesn't seem to do justice saying that he figuratively put the team on his back.
He had 13 of the team's 32 points in the the first half before exploding (again, not literally) for 18 points in the third where he missed just two shots combining a deadly mid-range jumper with moves in the paint. That led to a 30-point quarter for the Jazz and chipped a 19-point half-time lead (22 at one point in the first half) to just 13 points heading into the fourth.
Let's look back at that third quarter for a minute. The Jazz had scored all of 32 points in the first two quarters alone and suddenly, against the best defensive team in the NBA, they put up 30. That was only the second 30-point quarter the Heat have given up this season. The first was to Philly in the fourth quarter after they had been blowing them out. If anything, Miami gets better on defense as the game goes on. Here's the quarter by quarter breakdown of their games this season,
BOS, 16, 29, 18, 25
PHI, 15, 26, 13, 33
ORL, 24, 21, 10, 15
NJN, 18, 24, 19, 17
MIN, 27, 26, 17, 27
NOH, 29, 21, 22, 24
NJN, 25, 26, 17, 21
UTA, 13, 19, 30, 42
Utah improved in each quarter (hard not to do when you put up just 13). That speech also affected Deron as he finally came to life in the third as well. I'm thinking that Bell should just start giving these before the game starts. Williams had 8 & 6 in the third and 11 & 6 in the fourth to help spark the Jazz comeback.
What started out as a spark in the fourth finished in a full-fledged firestorm of threes the last 2 minutes of the game. The Jazz had finally fought back and tied the game at 79 on a Ronnie Price three-pointer with 7 minutes left. Deron gave the Jazz their first lead on the next possession with a 15-footer.
Miami was able to push their lead back to 7 with two and a half minutes to go in the game. An Andrei Kirilenko three and a Deron Williams jumper got the Jazz within 4 only to have LeBron make four straight free-throws to give the Heat an 8-point lead with 37 seconds left in the game.
There were a lot of crazy similarities with that game. Missed free-throws, check. Crazy shots, check. Scoring 42 points in the quarter, check.
The crazy shots and buzzer-beater all came from the same source.
After an improbable three from Millsap, Arroyo was quickly fouled where he made 1 of 2. Deron followed that up with a three of his own. The Jazz were still down 3 though, 96-99 with 21 seconds left.
Arroyo made two more free throws before the next Jazz possession where Millsap drained another three. The three for two special was working. 12 seconds left, 99-101 Heat.
And then in a curious case of deja-vu, Arroyo made two more free-throws to which Millsap responded with his final three on a Deron Williams drive and dish. One-point game, 102-103.
Deron was then called for an inbound foul which gave Arroyo a free-throw and Miami the ball back. Arroyo then missed that free-throw, keeping the lead to one.
Wade then had a chance to close the game out, but missed the first free-throw.
With a little over 4 seconds left, a quick inbound left-side to CJ resulted in a quick three. As it fell short and came off the left side, Millsap was back to his customary role of cleaning the glass and put back the game-tying shot as time expired.
I cannot express how much I aged during those 30 game-seconds. I had to double-check Game Cast after it appeared to be repeating Arroyo free-throws and Millsap threes. Maybe a little kick would free the PC from the loop that it was in?
As it was, Millsap really had scored 11 points in 30 seconds to give the Jazz an incredible comeback and give him 44 points on the night. He had carried the team on his back the entire night and single handily tied up the game in regulation.
It felt like we had won the game already but there was a little matter of OT to attend to. Dwyane Wade scored all 10 points in the extra period but it wasn't enough.
The Jazz on the other hand spread the wealth in OT, getting contributions from Millsap, Fesenko, AK, and finally Elson.
AK made a huge three to give the Jazz a 112-111 lead in OT and then followed that up with two clutch free-throws to push the lead to 3. That became huge as Wade hit a big three to tie it up.
Just like the game against the Clippers, the Jazz didn't call a timeout but instead pushed the ball up the court. Ronnie P was able to drive and dish to Elson who was fouled. He made both (the second was supposed to be a miss given that there was only .4 left on the clock), sealing the win.
Okay, now that I've bored you sufficiently with a step by step replay, let's look at some of the highlights.
First, where does this game rank in all-time regular season Jazz wins? We're very much a "what have you done for me lately" fanbase so one might elevate this over last season's win against Cleveland and the comeback against Portland and you would be right. Like I mentioned above, the comeback, the huge individual game, and against the biggest team in the league makes it hard to argue for any but this one. In the overall standings, it counts just the same as a mid-December 10-point win at home.
But for confidence and team building, it's much more than that and as a result could lead to more wins that had the Jazz folded or lost this game. So in that regard it's more valuable than just a W.
It was also Paul Millsap's official coming out party, no longer confined to Carlos Boozer's shadow. There's no longer the question of can he produce or can he replace Boozer's offensive production. I think we're starting to look at whether he's going to be significantly better than Boozer. He's now putting up 24 & 11 through 7 games while shooting 62.5%.
Throw in the three threes to close out the game (I guess we can't mock his agent anymore for saying that the three-pointer is part of his repertoire) and the game-tying bucket, this was a career-definer and one that puts you on everyone's radars nationally. He did this on national TV against the most-hyped team in the league. I really don't think I can speak enough to his game tonight. Just a thrill to watch.
He didn't do things entirely by himself. Andrei had one of his best nights of the season with two timely threes, 7 assists (including a few to Millsap), 9 rebounds, and some good D late on LeBron. His name won't show up in most places from this game, but we don't win it without him.
Deron has come back from the dead in the second halves in the last two games. I'm not sure why he's not getting involved and taking the lead from the start. Is he trying to facilitate too much? It's important to get everyone acclimated to the offense as early as you can. There have been times though where it looks like Deron's not into the game. It's one thing to be 1-6 to start the game and another to look like you don't care. Where we see ninja is where we see a determined Deron. He finished with 21 & 14.
Finally, I wouldn't read too much into Jefferson's benching in the fourth and OT. He was struggling, hard, and has been for a bit. None of his shots close to the basket are falling. It looks like he's aiming instead of shooting. I looked at it more that Sloan went with the hot hand rather than a benching. He'll come around, but in the meantime, the Jazz were able to put a unit out on the floor that they thrived in.
You don't get too much time to savor this as the Magic come calling Wednesday night. They're another huge team in the east and we'll see how the Jazz handle a back to back on the road.
If I had told you the Jazz would go 1-3 on this road trip with the one win being against Miami, would you have taken it? As high as you are right now, it's hard to say that you wouldn't be disappointed if the Jazz don't pick up at least another win and perhaps 2.