NBA: Paul Millsap leads Utah Jazz over Phoenix Suns
By Steve Luhm
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Jan 04 2013 10:36PM
Phoenix • Paul Millsap suffered a three-stitch cut on his ear, took an elbow to his throat and was kicked in the ribs.
He loved every minute of it.
Millsap scored 10 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter Friday night, when the Jazz overcame a brutal start and rallied for an 87-80 victory over Phoenix at U.S. Airways Arena.
Millsap has rarely been better than he was against the Suns, who made 16 of their first 20 shots before turning as icy as the winter weather in Utah.
Leading 36-25, Phoenix eventually found itself trailing, 87-70, with six minutes remaining.
It was a startling about-face and Millsap was in the middle of everything.
Along with his points and 10 rebounds, he contributed five steals, including four in the fourth quarter.
"Paul was just determined to play — and play hard," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "As a result, he had a great game. I thought he was the key to the game for us — his energy, his energy on the defensive end."
Al Jefferson led the Jazz with 21 points, including 10 in the third quarter, when Utah started to pull away.
Jefferson, however, agreed that Millsap’s play was critical to a victory that helped the Jazz even their record at 17-17.
"I don’t remember one game where Paul has played [so] well and we lost," Jefferson said. "I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, but not many. …
"I’ve led many games in scoring and we have lost a few. But when Paul is playing well — the way he played tonight — we don’t lose many. So it was great to see."
Bruised and battered, Millsap was smiling after the comeback victory.
"That’s all right," he said. "That’s basketball. … That’s what I do. It’s fun out there. It’s not fun to get the stitches, but that’s all part of it."
Marcin Gortat led the Suns with 18 points while Gordan Dragic added 17 and Luis Scola finished with 15. But Phoenix scored only 34 points over the next 311/2 minutes after pouring in 36 points in the opening 14 minutes.
"I thought the last three quarters were the worst we could possibly play," said coach Alvin Gentry. "… We never got anything done. We had no rhythm. We were always on the shot clock and they were getting so many things in the paint."
The turnaround started after Markieff Morris scored to give Suns an 11-point lead with 10 minutes left in the first half.
"We got into a pace where they were getting shots where they wanted to," Corbin said. "We didn’t get our hands on anybody. They were coming to the basket. Dragic was turning the corner on us. Scola was hitting shots. Gortat was driving to the basket. But we picked it up."
After falling behind and looking lost, however, the Jazz stopped Phoenix on its next 17 possessions. They took a 42-40 halftime lead on Alec Burks’ acrobatic layup with one second left.
Burks finished with only four points and three assists in 21 minutes, but he was also on the floor in the second quarter when Utah held the Suns to nine points.
"Defensively, he’s getting better," Corbin said. "He has to learn how to play guys — staying between them and the basket, sometimes pressuring the guy. But offensively, we can put the ball in his hands.
"Look at the play just before the end of the half. Not a lot of guys can make that play, going to the basket. … He gives us something on offense. But we have to make sure he gives us something on defense, also."
Behind Jefferson, the Jazz extended their lead in the third quarter.
It was only 71-64, though, when Millsap scored twice and forced a turnover that led to a Derrick Favors dunk.
"We were having fun," Millsap said. "Our team was having fun. We were doing what we supposed to do. … When we get out running and having fun, we’re going to beat any team in this league."