Paul Millsap was in disbelief.
He had done everything possible. Pour in a game-high 33 points. Grab 11 rebounds. Score 14 points during the fourth quarter alone, keeping the Jazz alive and breathing new life into an increasingly lifeless season.
The Jazz forward fought, pounded, and battered away.
But Millsap's iron will and soft touch were not enough, as Utah fell to the New Orleans Hornets 121-117 in overtime on Thursday night at EnergySolutions Arena before a crowd of 18,840.
When Millsap sank two free throws with 1.3 seconds remaining in regulation, it appeared that a recharged Jazz (36-37) team filled with fight and inspired by their leader's relentless attack was about to end a three-game losing streak and finally take a real step forward.
But a Hornets (41-31) length-of-the-court heave followed, and center Emeka Okafor banked home a fallaway, desperation 20-foot jump shot as time expired, sending the game into overtime.
Millsap said he thought it was impossible for New Orleans to answer in such a brief amount of time. But after Utah dropped its fourth consecutive game and fell 4Â½ games behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference standings with just nine regular-season contests remaining, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin acknowledged that he knew better.
Corbin said that he should have had Millsap intentionally miss his final free throw, leaving Utah with a one-point lead and an almost certain victory as time ran off the clock. Instead, Okafor buried his prayer and a stunned Jazz squad failed to recover from the shock during the unexpected extra period.
"Guys make spectacular plays, and they did that tonight," Corbin said. "I take responsibility for that."
Utah led 109-107 with 3:14 left in overtime. But New Orleans owned the remaining time, sinking 7 of 9 free throws and riding reserve center Aaron Gray who scored six points, sank four charity-stripe shots and collected three rebounds in OT to the win.
"Shout out, props, whatever you want to call it to Aaron Gray," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "He didn't play the whole first half, comes out in the second half, dominates on the boards â¦ and then he knocks down free throws when no one expected him to knock down free throws. He was the difference tonight."
The night left Millsap nearly speechless. Less than three weeks ago, the first-year starter said that he could not imagine being out of the playoffs. Since that time, he has done everything within his power when healthy to keep a struggling Utah team in contention. But after watching the Jazz find another way to drop a tight, winnable game Thursday, Millsap was a shell of himself during a postgame interview session. He spoke softly and with hesitation. Once the media walked away, Millsap stared straight ahead, hands on knees, still in uniform, glassy-eyed and lost.
"It's tough, man. It's a hard pill to swallow. â¦ It seems like there's nothing that's going right for us," Millsap said.
Jazz guard Devin Harris (strained right hamstring) missed his second consecutive game and is day-to-day. â¦ Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko (bruised nerve left knee) did not play and was not with the team. â¦ Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin started Earl Watson at point guard and Raja Bell at shooting guard, initially moving C.J. Miles to small forward in the first unit. â¦ New Orleans forward David West was wheeled off the court with 6.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter after a hard fall that resulted in left knee trauma. X-rays were negative, but a magnetic resonance imaging exam is forthcoming.
R Key stat • New Orleans sinks 80 percent (28 of 35) of its free throws, including 7 of 9 in overtime.
Key moment • The Hornets' Emeka Okafor buries a 20-foot bank shot with no time left on the clock in regulation to extend the game.