The Jazz’s Paul Millsap is never mentioned in discussions about the best power forwards in the NBA.
But that could change.
Maybe it should change.
Millsap capped a monstrous week against top competition Saturday night, when he outplayed U.S. Olympic team candidate Kevin Love and led the Jazz to a 108-98 victory over Minnesota.
Millsap scored 12 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, including 10 of Utah’s 13 during a critical 41/2-minute stretch in which the Jazz finally broke away.
In four games since last Sunday — including outings against the Clippers’ Blake Griffin, the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki and Love — Millsap averaged 22 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and shot 57.8 percent from the field.
“We appreciate all his efforts,” said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, “and the way he continues to work to get better. As a result, we’re a better team because he’s so effective on the floor.”
Asked if he takes it personally when paired against high-profile opponents like Love, Millsap paused for a moment and broke into a wide smile.
“Well, yeah,” he said. “But you always want to match up against the best. You always want to test yourself. Me, I’m going to take up the challenge every single time. That’s what we play for.”
For the Jazz, who improved to 10-5 this season, Al Jefferson and C.J. Miles contributed 18 points. Raja Bell added 12 as Utah won for the ninth time in 11 games.
Minnesota, which had a three-game winning streak snapped, got 17 points and 11 assists from rookie point guard Ricky Rubio.
Love managed only 15 points, however, and missed 16 of his 21 field-goal attempts. He failed to score in the final 14:03 of a winnable game.
“My main focus was with defense,” Millsap said. “I was trying to help on defense and trying to limit Kevin Love’s touches. I wasn’t really too focused on offense. It just happened.”
Millsap appeared to frustrate Love, who picked up his second technical foul of the season in the third quarter.
“I got my hand on the basketball a lot,” Millsap said. “That kind of takes a guy out of their rhythm. So he got a little frustrated. He got a technical. But I was just trying to do my job.”
“It was just one of those nights,” he said. “It wasn’t anything Millsap or Jefferson were doing. It was myself.”
Minnesota outplayed the Jazz in the first half, but a 7-2 run in the final minute gave Utah a 52-50 lead.
The Jazz built a 76-62 lead in the third quarter before Rubio rallied the Timberwolves.
Despite Millsap’s dominance, Minnesota trailed only 100-96 when it got the ball back.
In transition, however, Earl Watson stepped in front of Rubio, drew a charge with 4:13 remaining and ended the Timberwolves’ comeback.
“I was just trying to make a play,” Watson said. “I knew Ricky was coming pretty much straight on. I just tried to time it and get the angle and take a charge.”
Watson anticipated an aggressive play by Rubio, who was outstanding in his first visit to Utah.
“I knew the charge was going to come because [defensive] players don’t usually stop against transition,” Watson said. “They usually try to block shots. If you just stop, sometimes guys will just run into you. I got lucky.”
R Paul Millsap scores 12 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Jazz past Minnesota, 108-98.
• Millsap outduels the Timberwolves’ Kevin Love, who finishes with 15 points and eight rebounds.
• The Jazz head into their first and only three-day break between games with a 10-5 record.