PORTLAND, Ore. Besides the season-high eight assists he dished, Milt Palacio had one other critical delivery Sunday night.
He sent a message.
It was heard loud and clear, and because it was the Jazz beat Portland 98-93, snapping a three-game losing streak behind Mehmet Okur's 28 points and big late-game baskets by Andrei Kirilenko and Matt Harpring.
Palacio, making a rare late-game solo appearance at the point while rookie starter Deron Williams watched from the bench, spoke to Okur and Kirilenko in particular.
Here's what he had to say:
"Play tough, and we're coming to you guys. I need you to do something tonight. I mean, I need you to make a big play or make something happen."
It didn't stop there.
"I," Palacio said, "said, 'Listen, man, you two, we're going to get on y'all's backs and y'all are gonna take us there. We're going to win this game, we're gonna get out here, and we're gonna go play Minnesota.' "
The Jazz open a five-game homestand tonight vs. the Timberwolves =96 their longest stretch of consecutive games this season at the Delta Center =96 having played the Trail Blazers, who have four straight now, precisely as Palacio said they should.
They rode Kirilenko and Okur.
Kirilenko, who still hasn't started in his three games back after missing seven due to a sprained ankle, finished with just nine points off the bench.
But he saved his best for late.
Tied at 85 with just less than three minutes remaining, Kirilenko took a kick pass from a penetrating Palacio and drained a 3-pointer. He was fouled on the shot by Blazers big man Zach Randolph take that, Kobe, the Jazz had to be thinking - and made the free throw that followed to put Utah up by four.
After Portland got back to within two at 91-89, it was Okur's turn to contribute.
The 7-10 Jazz are 0-8 this season when Okur, Utah's Jazz season-scoring leader, takes 15 or fewer shots. But this time he shot 12-of-18 from the field, snapping a three-game stretch in single digits as Palacio in particular and others as well made sure he was well-fed.
"I felt good," Okur said. "My teammates were looking for me out there. They were swinging the ball, and I made a few easy layups, and I started the game with a few good shots, and it got me going."
It kept him going, too.
Okur's final two points came from the free-throw line, putting the Jazz ahead 93-89 with 1:47 left.
Harpring's big trey followed after Portland again had made it a two-point game, falling with 41 seconds to go and leaving the Jazz up 96-91.
It, too, came off an assist from Palacio.
"He got the ball to the right people, took shots when he had them," Harpring said of the journeyman signed as a free agent by the Jazz this past offseason. "Good decision-making. Exactly what you need out of a point. I thought he did a great job."
"He was huge for us," Okur said.
Those two were not alone in their thinking.
"He executed our offense very well," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said.
"He controlled us," Sloan added, "and didn't let us get wild. And he's not afraid to go in there and take it to them."
Palacio did just for a victory-sealing exclamation point, driving to the basket for a layup that extended Utah's three-point advantage to five at 98-93 with just 15.8 seconds remaining.
With the floor spread because of Kirilenko's and Harpring's earlier treys, Palacio was able to blow past young Blazers point Sebastian Telfair, run by the outstretched arm of Randolph and leave down-low help defender Ruben Patterson stuck in his tracks.
"I kept penetrating and dishing," Palacio said, "so they were like, 'He's going to penetrate and try to dish it again.' (Patterson) didn't even move, because he had no clue what I was gonna do. Once I saw him kind of stand still, I knew I had to go."
This time, he did just that.
"Milt got his layup," said Harpring, who wound up with 20 points, "because they didn't want to leave me in the corner for the 3."
In this instance, it was well-worth passing up the assist.
And why not?
Palacio already had distributed more than he has all season, plus one other that was not tallied by the statisticians.Comment on this story
"I just kept telling the guys, 'Play tough.' And I think that they responded," he said. "I think this is kind of the first time I really (saw) Memo (Okur) and A.K. (Kirilenko) really respond."It was kind of encouraging to see."