Prior to last night, nine of the 30 NBA teams had won at least two-thirds of their games.
Now, there are 10.
Welcome to the club, Paul Millsap and the Utah Jazz.
When you think of players who can reel off 14 consecutive fourth-quarter points for their team in the hick of a tight contest, certain names come to mind: Kobe, D-Wade, LeBron, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki. It is what they do and what they’ve done, which is why all of them are perennial All-Stars.
Well, there’s a big burly beast in the Western conference who proved himself capable of doing the same thing, and Millsap’s 14 in a row led the Utah Jazz to just their second road win of the season Sunday night with a 106-96 victory over a Denver Nuggets team that had just registered one of the more quality victories of the season by upending the Miami Heat by 13 points.
“I would probably blame (the loss) on our NBA cool,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “We thought we were cool after kicking Miami’s butt and we got embarrassed. The NBA game does that quite frequently. If you think you’re better than you are or you think you’re cooler than you are and you don’t think you’ve got to put in the hard work to win games, you get embarrassed — and we got embarrassed.”
Most embarrassed were Al Harrington, Nene and Danilo Gallinari, who were mismatched and/or ineffective against Millsap in the fourth quarter of a tight game, with Utah leading 81-79. The Jazz then started continually feeding their big guy, an Millsap’s 14 consecutive points turned the game Utah’s way.
From Brian T. Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune: “Millsap’s 16 fourth-quarter points Sunday during the Jazz’s 106-96 victory against Denver look great on paper. They were spectacular in person. At the 9:49 mark during the final period, Millsap had 10 points and was producing another solid game. Then he went off. A dunk. A 6-foot jumper. A layup. A 4-foot turnaround, fast-break layup, 5-foot turnaround and 17-foot fadeaway. Fourteen consecutive points in 4:42. A close game was blown wide open, and Millsap had done it again. … It’s the third time since Nov. 9, 2010 Millsap’s entered the zone. The first was the most memorable: A career-high 46 points during a 116-114 overtime victory against Miami, which included 11 points in the final 28 seconds of regulation. Then there was March 20, 2011, when Millsap overcame several injuries to score 12 points in OT and lift the Jazz past Houston, 103-99.”
Millsap shot 12-for-19 for is 26 points, moving into sixth place among the league leaders in field goal percentage (.554).
The guy atop that same statistical category is running away with the shooting accuracy title (.620).
He is Phoenix center Marcin Gortat, and he will be the first to tell you he is the fastest driver in the NBA. I got to know Gortate when he was Dwight Howard’s backup with the Orlando Magic, and his agent once told me: “Usually, I like to be close to my clients. With Marcin, that is not the case when he is behind the wheel.”
Gortat shot 11-for-20 for 24 points with 15 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough for the Phoenix Suns as they lost 102-91 in San Antonio as the Spurs improved to 9-0 at home.
Philadelphia, Indiana, Chicago and Milwaukee are the only other teams sporting perfect home records.
On the subject of accurate shooters, Tim Duncan turned he clock back with a 10-for-14 performance from the field as he scored 24 points and moved past Gary Payton into 26th place on the NBA’s career scoring list with 21,829. Clyde Drexler is 25th with 22,195.
From Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: “The Spurs (9-4) limited the Suns to just 41.8-percent shooting, the third straight opponent to hit less than 43 percent against them. It arrived on the heels of a stretch in which three straight opponents shot better than 50 percent against them. After Milwaukee torched the Spurs at a 51.8-percent clip Tuesday — in a game the Spurs lost 106-103 despite shooting 60 percent themselves — coach Gregg Popovich derided his club as “the worst defensive team we’ve ever had.” … After the debacle in Milwaukee — “a game we could have won,” (Tony) Parker said — Popovich sat his team down for a come-to-Jesus film session. The topic, not surprising to anyone who has been around the Spurs’ program for more than 35 seconds, was defense. Where the Spurs used to rely on “stops on demand,” too often this season Popovich had to resort to begging. Heading into Sunday, even after back-to-back acceptable games against Houston and Portland, the Spurs ranked 26th in the NBA in field-goal percentage defense (46.1 percent) and 19th in points allowed (95.6). … After (Steve) Nash threw in a running 8-footer to cut what had been a 19-point deficit to 94-89 with 4:42 left, Popovich at last got the stops he demanded. Phoenix managed just one field goal the rest of the game, and the Spurs held on to win the old-fashioned way.”
There was only one other game on the slate as the NBA avoided scheduling itself against the NFL playoffs.
It also featured one of the league’s most high-percentage shooters, but Greg Monroe (who had 17 first-half points) went scoreless in the final quarter and attempted only one shot as the Detroit Pistons lost to Golden State 99-91, handing the Warriors (who were without Stephen Curry) their first road victory of the season.
From Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: “With 2:58 remaining in the second quarter, a four-game road trip that started with an ugly loss in Charlotte could have turned downright revolting. Shooting guard Monta Ellis banged his surgically repaired left knee violently against Detroit’s Ben Gordon. The pain was so bad that the Warriors had to call a timeout to give their top scorer a chance to hobble to the bench and punch the scorer’s table. It more than hurt. “It hurted. It hurted bad, but we needed this win,” Ellis said. “I just sucked it up, and I’ll worry about it later. We couldn’t fall down and get into a deeper hole.” Instead of limping back to the locker room, Ellis strode to the free-throw line and then completely took over a game that the Warriors were losing. In that one resilient moment, they might have rounded the turning point Ellis has been promising. After going 1-for-4 with five points and three turnovers in the first half, a knee-padded Ellis went 6-for-10 for 17 points, with five assists and two turnovers, in the second. The result was a 99-91 victory that helped the Warriors get redemption for Saturday’s stinker of a loss at Charlotte.”