Paul Millsap plays with the heart of a thousand men!
It’s been two whole weeks since we checked in on the Utah Jazz and/or the NBA.
The Jazz lost its first two games, got back to .500 against the Thunder and the Raptors, then lost to Golden State and needed double overtime to beat the Clippers (at home, no less). Then, last night, despite going into halftime down 19 points, Utah staged a ferocious fourth quarter rally — during which the irrepressible Paul Millsap, who had previously hit two three-pointers in his entire career, drained three in the final twenty-eight seconds of regulation — and prevailed in overtime to beat the Miami Heat, 116-114.
I was prepared in this space to lament Utah’s mediocre start to the season, moping over its blowout losses (even at home, to the Suns) and jetlagged starts. (In its three losses, Utah averaged less than 20 first quarter points. Against the Clips, Utah was behind 35-22 after twelve minutes. It’s not like we’ve got Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson on the bench.) And Jerry Sloan’s precision motion offense, regularly one of the most efficient in the league, is shooting just 45% from the floor and 34% from beyond the arc. (I was going to say nothing of Utah’s staggering 17 turnovers per game, among the highest in the league.)
I was going to write something about how Andrei Kirilenko is giving off bad Russian vibes and how much Mehmet Okur (still recovering from a torn Achilles) is missed when he’s not around to space the floor with his perimeter shooting. I may or may not have said anything about how Gordon Hayward appears overwhelmed and Deron Williams is trying to do too much himself.
But then the Jazz pulled a gem out behind Millsap’s gutsy effort, a double-double from Williams, and some timely shooting and defense from Kirilenko. This game was over with 37 seconds to go. Miami was up 98-90. Millsap hit the first of his three-pointers. Carlos Arroyo made 1-of-2 free throws, then Williams drained a three. 99-96, Miami. Kyrylo Fesenko put Arroyo back on the line and he made both free throws this time. Then Millsap hit his second three. 101-99. Millsap fouled Arroyo, who hit two more free throws. Utah took a 20 second timeout. Out of the timeout, Millsap hit his final three. 103-102. Williams fouled out putting Arroyo back on the line. This time Arroyo missed the free throw but Miami got the offensive rebound and called a 30 second timeout. Raja Bell fouled Dwayne Wade, who hit 1-of-2. 104-102. Utah timeout. Three seconds left. C.J. Miles missed a three from the corner, but Millsap grabbed the rebound and hit a putback at the buzzer to send it to overtime, 104-104. For those of you scoring at home, that’s 11 points in 28 seconds for Paul Millsap.
In OT, Millsap added two more, Kirilenko threw in five, and Francisco Elson hit two free throws with 0.4 on the clock after Wade had tied it up with a three pointer.
I’m still giddy.
(Aside: To both my eternal shame and severe discredit as a Utah Jazz blogger, I wrote not one word — zippo, nada — about Millsap in my season preview. I bought into the Al Jefferson hype and overlooked the most consistent and hard-working Jazz player besides Williams over the last two years. If you didn’t already question my credibility as a Jazz commentator, this should keep you up at night.)
Speaking of the Heat, this response from Cleveland fans (“Quitness”) has generated almost as many YouTube hits as LeBron’s James’s original commercial, “Rise.”
What this video accomplishes — besides making you question the wisdom of pissing off a guy wearing a Cleveland Indians hat and holding an axe — is it takes LeBron’s cutesy corporate script and subverts it with his own words (both his “Who should I be?” question and an audio clip of him saying, “I got a goal and that’s a huge goal and that’s to bring an NBA championship to Cleveland and I won’t stop ’til I get it”). The video not only puts faces on aggrieved Cleveland fans — tossing bales of hay, walking down school hallways, drying out restaurant glasses, all good, honest Midwestern folk putting in an honest day’s work — it’s also, even with (or partly because of) its righteous anger, a classy response. Burning LeBron jerseys in the streets may have been cathartic, but that’s all it was. And Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s diatribe after James’s ill-fated “Decision” read like a letter from a jilted lover. The video channels the same animosity but achieves something beyond venting. I’d like to think I’d feel the same even if I didn’t have a soft spot for poor Cleveland fans.
Speaking of, how’s Cleveland doing? Answer: the same as the Jazz. The Cavs are 4-3 after ekeing out a win in New Jersey last night. But it also lost to Toronto by 20. Toronto is going to be one of the worst NBA teams in modern memory. You know who else is terrible? Charlotte. You know who plays tonight at seven o’clock at the Air Canada Centre? Toronto and Charlotte. With all due respect to the good fans in these two cities (and my friend and rabid Bobcats fan Ethan Musgrave, who writes for Bobcats Baseline), when David Stern talks about contraction, he’s talking about you guys.
Other NBA thoughts:
- Break up the Warriors! Denys Lai’s squad is 5-2 with the new logo and Monta Ellis is leading the league in scoring. Pencil in Keith Smart for Coach of the Year.
- The Los Angeles Lakers are one of two undefeated teams. The other? The New Orleans Hornets. (As Andy Wong might say during a FishGuts podcast, “Say what?”) Chris Paul is off to a ridiculous start: 19 ppg, 10 apg, 50% shooting from the floor and a staggering 5.5 assist-to-turnover ratio. Emeka Okafor, someone I have not said kind things about in the past, is giving them 12 points and 2+ blocks a game on 72 percent shooting. If he keeps that up for the whole season, I will lather Emeka Okafor’s foot bunions with my own tongue.
- Scott Guldin’s Bulls are 3-3 after Monday’s win over Melo and the Nuggets. Former Jazz players Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer have had decidedly different starts with their new team. Korver is shooting 57% from three and put up 18 against the Knicks. Brewer, meanwhile, appears to have forgotten how to play organized sports. He has claimed James Johnson’s spot in the rotation and has gotten better from game to game, but still. John Hollinger continues to have an inexplicable man crush on him, probably because he has a 14.3 PER (Player Efficiency Rating). I have never understood this rating, even after reading detailed descriptions of how it is computed. I think John Hollinger has too much time on his hands. (Says the guy living in Cincinnati writing posts about the Utah Jazz!)
- Eric Bescak texted me, “I want the Nuggets to win everything this year. How silly/possible is that?” What on earth possessed him to send this text remains beyond my realm of comprehension. The Nuggets are one of the least likable teams in all of professional sports, right up there with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dallas Cowboys, the Atlanta Braves, any sports team from the state of Florida, and whichever professional or collegiate team Isaiah Thomas is currently affiliated with. Only those teams are occasionally good and stuff. The Nuggets haven’t been relevant since their 80s unis made this Top Ten Ugliest Sports Jerseys list.
- Speaking of the Nuggets, they were destroyed by Indiana last night, 144-113. The Pacers hit their first twenty shots of the third quarter, missing only Josh McRoberts’s three-pointer with 1.3 seconds left. Indiana scored 54 points in the quarter, the most in the NBA since 1990. Moral of the story: Denver blows.
- You thought I was done with the Jazz? You thought wrong. From the Deseret News:
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan laughed at himself after he talked about players needing to watch gametape on VCRs recently. (Hey, at least he didn’t suggest they watch it on 8mm film.) While talking about Twitter last weekend, Sloan got more chuckles after saying it’s hard to control what players do outside of the locker room. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about, basically,” Sloan said. “I don’t even have a computer. I barely can answer my cellphone.”
This is why I love Jerry Sloan.