SALT LAKE CITY — Another day, another ballgame, another difficult challenge against a more heralded big-name player.
And, for the third time in less than a week, another superb performance by Paul Millsap in an impressive Utah Jazz victory.
The 6-foot-8 power forward scored 12 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter and dominated his matchup with Minnesota counterpart Kevin Love as the Jazz whipped the Timberwolves 108-98 on Saturday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
Four nights earlier, it was the L.A. Clippers' high-profile power forward, Blake Griffin, who watched as the undersized Millsap got the best of him.
That came on the heels of a monstrous fourth-quarter effort by Millsap in a road win at Denver.
Then on Saturday night, the sixth-year Jazzman took it to Love, Minnesota's Mr. Double-Double whose 3-pointer at the buzzer had beaten the Clippers one night earlier.
Millsap made 12-of-18 shots from the floor, pulled down nine rebounds and had four assists and a steal, all despite being saddled with foul trouble for much of the night. Love struggled through a dismal 5-of-21 shooting night and wound up with 15 points, eight boards and four turnovers. His consecutive double-double streak to start the season ended at 15 games.
"We really appreciate all his efforts and the way he just continues to work to get better," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said of Millsap. "And as a result, we're better because he's so effective on the floor.
"He's been doing it all year. He was hurt a little bit early (in the season), but once he got healthy ... it doesn't matter who it is out there, he just goes out there and competes. He's a smart player that makes the right cuts, the right passes. He's just doing a tremendous job for us."
The soft-spoken Millsap is one of those genuinely humble guys who generally lets his game do his talking for him. And, with season averages of 16.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, his performances speak volumes about the type of NBA player he has become since three-time NCAA rebounding champ left Louisiana Tech in 2006.
And when he made his only trip to the foul line on Saturday, some fans were chanting "All-Star! All-Star! All-Star!" Millsap said he really didn't notice it.
"It was brought to my attention," he said, "but I sure appreciate it.
"I'm only as good as my last game, that's how I see it. I just try to continue to get better."
But while not-so-tall Paul doesn't like to say much about his stellar court contributions, his teammates have no trouble talking him up.
"He's hard to guard in his position because he can step out on the floor," said swingman C.J. Miles, who scored 11 second-quarter points on his way an 18-point night. "It's hard for guys to stay in front of him, and he can make shots. He can make jump shots ... and guys can't really figure out how to guard him. He is playing as good as anyone right now."
Utah starting center Al Jefferson was the big man with a double-double on this night — 18 points and 12 rebounds — as the Jazz out-rebounded the T-wolves by a decisive 46-35 margin. Strong performances by Raja Bell (12 points), Miles and backup point guard Earl Watson (10 points, 7 assists) also helped the Jazz improve to 10-5 overall with the ninth win in their last 11 games.
Corbin commended the defensive effort that Millsap, Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter did in keeping Love in check.
"Paul was great, Al was great for the minutes he had on him, and the young guys Favors and Enes that was in there," the Jazz coach said, "big bodies that were banging and banging and making him work for everything he got.
He's a tremendous player and we did a pretty decent job on him tonight."
Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said his fourth-year forward was probably a little tired from playing the previous night.
And the 6-foot-10 Love refused to give any credit to Utah's defenders for his shaky shooting performance.
"It was just one of those nights," he said. "It wasn't anything Millsap or Jefferson were doing, it was myself."
But, as the words of that old rock 'n roll song says, "Love hurts."
And, like it or not, he has Millsap and Co. to thank for it.
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