MILWAUKEE At the tail end of an admittedly disappointing five-game road trip, the suddenly cold Jazz dropped a game here.
But inside the half-empty Bradley Center, and amid a whiteout outside they could have lost much, much more.
Already playing without still injured All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer and starting center Mehmet Okur on Tuesday night, Utah closed a 10-night Eastern road swing by falling 94-86 at snowy Milwaukee and very nearly was hit with an injury that could perhaps have led to its season melting away.
Instead, after exiting late in the first quarter with what appeared to be a gruesome knee injury, power forward replacement-starter Paul Millsap returned to play the entire second half.
His gritty effort and that of a limited few others with the now 17-13 Jazz, including point guard Deron Williams and sixth man Andrei Kirilenko, weren't enough to overcome Milwaukee's 19-point lead from early in the third quarter.
But his personal comeback was pending further evaluation today a gift Utah gladly will keep.
"It made me nervous," Williams said of Millsap's mishap. "Real nervous."
Millsap whose streak of 15 straight double-doubles came to a close with an 11-point, nine-rebound night collided with game-high 27-point scorer Michael Redd of the Bucks.
"After he fell on it," said Millsap, who described his knee as having "hyperextended," "I felt a pop and felt like it was over. I felt like, 'Why me? Why did it happen to me?"'
Yet Millsap who will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and seems bound, barring major injury, to be in line for making many millions of dollars somehow managed to return.
X-rays were negative, and he was able withstand putting pressure on the knee, so after earlier leaving the court with help of two teammates and going to the locker room in a wheelchair he was back on the Jazz bench with two minutes and 16 seconds left in the first half.
Utah was down 42-36 at the time, and Millsap because coach Jerry Sloan didn't want to play him until he had a chance to warm up watched as Milwaukee (14-16) built a 50-38 heading into halftime.
But, to the surprise of many, he was back after the break.
"I felt a little weak. I felt like I was playing on one leg," said Millsap, who may undergo an MRI exam today. "I tried to run and tried to jump off it. I tried to play defense. But, it's a man's game out there. My team needed me, and I came back and tried to help."
"Without him, we were hurting. Without him and Memo," Williams added with additional reference to Okur, who sat out with back spasms and was replaced in the opening lineup by seldom-used reserve center Kyrylo Fesenko. "You know, Fes started so it was a little scary for a minute."
But with Millsap back for the start of the third and rookie Kosta Koufos opening in place of benched Fesenko, the Jazz only after the Bucks went up by 19 at 61-42 with 8:36 to go in the third crept back.
They even tied it at 77 when spurred by a 10-0 run that included back-to-back 3-pointers from Williams and Kyle Korver 22-point team-high scorer Kirilenko hit two freebies with 7:08 to go.
Still unlike last Wednesday at New Jersey, where they overcame a 22-point deficit from the first quarter, and unlike last Friday at Detroit, where they won in double-overtime after being down by seven in the fourth quarter the Jazz couldn't complete the rally this time.
The Bucks hit six straight free throws 4-of-4 by Redd, 2-of-2 from Richard Jefferson to make it 83-77. And Jefferson and Redd both hit key jumpers in the final 3:10, while Kirilenko got called for basket interference, was tagged with a charging call and missed a trey try in that same down-the-stretch span.
"You can't be fighting an uphill battle on the road every game," said forward Matt Harpring, one of five closing for Utah. "It's a hard way to play."
So, in Sloan's mind, was the way the Jazz started.55 comments on this story
"I didn't think we really busted a gut to play the game," he said after they finished their annual pre-Christmas excursion 2-3. "I thought we played kind of soft, and it looked like we were feeling sorry for ourselves a little bit.
"That looked like streetball to me, the way we played," Sloan added after Utah finished with 24 turnovers leading to 26 Milwaukee points its third game with 18 or more miscues. "We come out, and guys are trying to get shots off from 20 feet and there's no chance to rebound it. Paul Millsap can't get all of 'em."