Gordon Hayward isn’t the only Jazz player better with the ball in his hands.
Utah’s Paul Millsap was at his best Sunday during a 103-99 victory against the Lakers, and much of the power forward’s late-game magic occurred when he was able to dictate his own course of action.
With center Al Jefferson (personal reasons) again out of the lineup, Millsap was the Jazz’s No. 1 offensive option. His response: A team-high 24 points on 10-of-21 shooting, which included 14 points during the second half.
The six-year veteran spent the 2011 NBA lockout improving everything from his ball-handling skills and long-range jump shot to his ability to beat defenders off the dribble. Millsap employed all those weapons and more Sunday, carrying Utah like it was the 2010-11 season all over again.
“I just wanted to be aggressive, whether that’s driving to the rim, drawing a defender or kicking the ball to an open guy,” said Millsap, who ranks second on the Jazz in average points (16), rebounds (9) and minutes (31.7). “I wanted to keep their big guys moving and keep them off their heels. That was my main focus.”
The Warrior’s also been sucking up loose balls. He recorded nine rebounds and five steals against the Lakers, and is averaging a surreal 4.4 takeaways during his past five games. Entering Monday, Millsap ranked fifth in the NBA in average steals (1.91), just .02 behind fourth-place LeBron James.
“We’re helping each other and being active,” Millsap said. “We’re getting our hands on a lot of deflections. We are a confident team, and we have confidence on the defensive end. We feel like we can stop anybody.”
Utah small forward C.J. Miles spent his 25th birthday sick and hazy and acknowledged on Twitter he was dealing with double vision.
But Miles toughed it out. He made his second consecutive start with Raja Bell out of the lineup, and helped the Jazz hold Los Angeles guard Kobe Bryant to a horrific 3-of-20 shooting performance from the field.
“C.J. did a tremendous job on him, and [we] allowed all of the other guys that guarded him to frustrate him a bit,” Hayward said.
Bryant’s out-of-character outing was even worse than it initially appeared. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bryant has taken at least 20 shots 571 times during his 16-year career. His field-goal percentage Sunday — 15 — was his worst on at least 20 attempts since he entered the NBA.