22 January 2012
Paul Millsap is certainly making a case this season for an all-star bid. Fellow power forward and arguably the league’s best one at that, Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Love, was in town Saturday night. Squaring off against his direct competition for that coveted nomination, Paul had an opportunity to bolster the impressive résumé he’s been building all year.
Well, put another merit badge on that sash. Paul Millsap is soaring with eagles. And on this evening, as a different kind of Eagles would sing, Paul Millsap "got the best of (Kevin) Love".
(Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
Millsap was sky high once again, on both ends of the floor, including: Yet another masterful 4th quarter performance AND playing key cog in ending Kevin Love’s impressive double-double streak (league’s longest to begin a season since Moses Malone in 1981-82, courtesy of our own Spencer Campbell). The Jazz snagged their 10th win of the young season, beating the pesky Wolves 108-98. Shout out to Hot Rod Hundley.
In what is becoming quite the handful for opposing front courts, Millsap and Al Jefferson are beasting in the paint. What’s more impressive than the steady stream of quality stats this duo is putting up, is the chemistry and intuition these two are developing regarding each other’s game. I’m hardly the first to take notice, as evidenced by this fantastic piece from Clint Peterson at Hardwood Paroxysm.
Early on, Minnesota was fed a heavy dose of Utah’s bigs’ production, with 14 of Utah’s 22 1st quarter points coming from Paul and Al. Unfortunately, young stud Ricky Rubio was on his game this evening. Rubio was everywhere, getting 3 early assists and 3 steals in the first, leading fast breaks and getting the entire team involved. Minnesota looked fantastic for the entire first half. Pretty solid, considering this was the second game of a back-to-back, coming off no doubt an emotionally draining win over the Clippers at Staples.
But, as we saw earlier this week with Dallas, the combination of elevation and tired legs set in early in the 3rd quarter. The 54-52 lead Utah took into the half would jump quickly, as the Timberwolves came out flat. Led by Jefferson and Raja Bell, Utah rode a 12-4 run to a 76-62 lead. Normally, this would feel like coast-mode against the Timberwolves of years past.
This isn’t your normal Timberwolves squad, though. Minnesota got physical and, well, let’s just say creative in getting to the free throw line. The pace slowed dramatically. Whistles rang out frequently. Even Ty Corbin was hit with a technical foul… Odd. He’s usually so stoic and calm. (/sarcasm) Before you knew it, Utah’s lead was whittled to three points going into the 4th quarter, 84-81.
And then Paul Millsap happened. For one, Paul frustrated Love all night long, who shot a dismal 5-21 from the field for only 15 points. More importantly, the emblematic glass eater was kept off the boards (eight rebounds, only three offensive), ending his aforementioned double-double streak at 16. Secondly, Millsap fired in 12 of his game-high 26 points in his final stint, finishing on 67% shooting. The man is making some serious waves, and getting skeptical Jazz fans bought into this team at a rapid rate.
Throughout the game, Millsap and Jefferson worked together so fluidly. Watch these two closely when you have a chance. They sense each other. They know when to cut. When to pass. When to follow a miss for a tip in. When to defer to the other. A feat many thought Al wasn’t capable of. Now? Deron Williams isn’t the one trying to make Al Jefferson an all star anymore. Paul Millsap is, and getting some serious production out of his partner in crime. Kudos to Ty Corbin and this coaching staff for taking two interesting ingredients in Paul and Al and whipping up a batch of something extra special. If you didn’t leave this recap already for the link to Clint’s HP piece which explains this concept 10,000 times better than I ever could, you have my blessing to do so now. Go. (Come back and finish this when you’re done, though.)
Earl Watson. I mean, that about sums it up, if you’ve been watching these games, right? Watson is solidifying himself as a leader, not just to the bench squad, but to the entire team. After a questionable late substitution against Dallas on Thursday, Corbin opted tonight to keep Watson on the floor to finish the 4th quarter (nearly 16 straight minutes on the floor). That’s a serious vote of confidence. The thing is, the tempo is seriously pushed when Earl is leading the charge. Utah’s bench has been outscoring opponents all season quite regularly. Earl Watson can be thanked for that. Let him know you appreciate it, he’s friendly on Twitter! (@Earl_Watson)
One more Earl High Note moment: Forced to heave a late-in-the-shot-clock three, Watson banked in the shot (no doubt called it under his breath). Immediately following the banked triple, Ron Boone (welcome back, Booner!) read the $50 donation sponsorship for all of Utah’s made threes, brought to you by…none other than….Mountain America Credit Union. Oh, the irony.
C.J. Miles continues to respond positively to early season woes. I’m a little confused, though, as he was taking some heat for “chucking” tonight on my Twitter timeline. I disagree vehemently. These aren’t stupid shots coming early in the possession. On consecutive possessions, Miles was deferred to with less than five seconds on the shot clock to make a miracle happen. Nailed one three. Missed another. That was just two instances that happened to be back to back.
More and more, C.J. is having to bail out the Jazz for poor ball movement by taking a less than desirable shot. Not entirely his fault. But if you told me C.J. would give us 18 points in 21 minutes while playing SUPER aggressive (got to the line ten times tonight), I’ll take it every time. Ease up on C.J., guys. He didn’t even foul anyone tonight at the worst possible time. See, improvement!
Outside of a couple nice blocks, Derrick Favors was fairly quiet tonight. One point, 0-3 FG, and two turnovers on a team-low +/- of -9 in 15 minutes, Favors perhaps played a little more reserved due to last night’s rare ejection. He did grab 7 rebounds, so not a total whiff. But we’ll need to see stronger performances if we’re ever going to see those minutes increase. And with Paul and Al in beast mode, it’s going to be that much more difficult. Make those minutes count, my man.
Maybe I'm just in a good mood, but that sums up that section. Utah is now at 10-5, with a rare extended break before hosting the struggling Toronto Raptors on Wedensday at ESA. A stiff test await later in the week, as Utah travels to Dallas to try and avenge last Thursday's heartbreaking loss to the defending champions.
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