Kragthorpe: Hawks’ ex-Jazz players on verge of big upset
Published: April 25, 2014 09:58PM
Updated: April 26, 2014 05:20PM
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Indiana Pacers forward David West (21) drives between Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver, left, and forward Paul Millsap (4) in the first half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series on Thursday, April 24, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

As the years go by, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver are gaining more distinction as former Jazz players who contributed to the franchise’s most recent victory in a playoff game. They’re also distinguishing themselves in Atlanta at the moment.

The Hawks hold a 2-1 lead over No. 1 seed Indiana in an Eastern Conference first-round series, following a 98-85 victory Thursday. Ex-Jazzmen DeMarre Carroll, Millsap and Korver combined for 52 points in the win, extending the unpredictable theme of these NBA playoffs.

Only two of the eight series have stayed on schedule, in terms of the higher-seeded team’s performance. Miami is 2-0 vs. Charlotte and the Los Angeles Clippers have a 2-1 edge over Golden State — and the Clippers needed a road victory with a controversial ending Thursday to re-establish themselves.

Otherwise, some wild stuff is happening around the league, and nowhere is that more true than in Atlanta. Millsap and Korver played in the Jazz’s clinching, Game 6 victory over Denver in 2010. The Jazz went on to be swept by the L.A. Lakers and the franchise hasn’t won a playoff game since then, as the Jazz (with Millsap and Carroll) were swept by San Antonio in the first round in 2012.

And who knows when the Jazz’s next playoff win will come?

This is not about lamenting the departures of the three Jazzmen now performing in Atlanta. Some combination of salary cap constraints and the Jazz’s rebuilding strategy forced them to go elsewhere. So the Jazz are starting over, hoping someday to leapfrog the level of the Millsap/Al Jefferson era, and it might happen.

For now, I’m just enjoying how Millsap, Korver and Carroll are thriving in Atlanta. The reality is the Hawks finished only 38-44 in the regular season, needing a late push to keep their playoff spot. But they’ve come to life against a reeling Indiana team in this series, and now it really gets interesting.

If the Hawks win Saturday’s Game 4 in Atlanta, they’ll have a great shot at staging a rare upset of a No. 1 seed in the first round. And the Pacers’ implosion almost certainly will cost coach Frank Vogel his job.

Conversely, if Atlanta wins the series, that would be a huge achievement for first-year coach Mike Budenholzer. He’s one of the former San Antonio assistant coaches who would have been a strong candidate for the Jazz’s vacancy, if not for landing the Hawks’ job last spring.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt