Utah Jazz: Big 3 of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors terrorizing opponents

Published: Wednesday, April 25 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

Related blog: Its official: No. 8 Utah Jazz vs. No. 1 San Antonio Spurs

SALT LAKE CITY — On April 2, the Utah Jazz were struggling and stumbling. They'd lost three in a row and appeared to be headed to a fourth straight setback, trailing the then-healthy-for-them Portland Trail Blazers by 14 points in the first half at the Rose Garden.

Another defeat — which happened far more often than not on the road this season — could've been devastating.

Desperate for something to happen, coach Tyrone Corbin reached up his sleeve for a trick.

He pulled out the Big Three.

Not LeBron's crew, the Spurs' three amigos nor Larry, Curly and Moe.

It was the Jazz's Big Three of 6-10 Al Jefferson, 6-10 Derrick Favors and 6-8 Paul Millsap.

Corbin had considered playing the tall and talented trio together earlier in the season in order to find the bigs extra playing time, but Gordon Hayward, Josh Howard and C.J. Miles had taken up about all the small forward minutes Millsap might've received in that lineup.

Three weeks later, it's almost hard to imagine the Jazz winning — or making the playoffs — without that threesome teaming up to terrorize opponents.

"It's really been beneficial to us when we've gone to it," said the 6-8 Hayward, who often plays shooting guard to add even more length to the lineup. "It's hard for teams to match up against us."

The Blazers — or what's left of them — can attest. Utah's Big Three sparked a massive 19-point turnaround in that pivotal road win, which pushed the Jazz back into playoff mode.

The Suns were the latest victims to feel the pain from that powerful offensive and defensive combination, which has been one of the reasons Utah has gone 8-4 since that fateful night in Portland.

Millsap joined Big Al, Favors, Hayward and Devin Harris with 10 minutes to go and the Jazz trailing by two points on Tuesday.

Nine dominating minutes later, and the Jazz had a 12-point lead and a playoff berth all but wrapped up.

"I think that big lineup is very special," Jefferson said. "You've got Paul, who can guard anybody from the two (shooting guard) to the five (center), in my opinion, and he just nagging at you with his hands — he's got the best hands in the league and forces turnovers.

Also, Jefferson added, "you've got Derrick Favors, who is an unbelievable shot-blocker and very athletic, and then you've got me, who's an OK shot-blocker compared to Derrick Favors. So it's a big lineup, especially on the offensive end."

Utah's trifecta is especially effective when Harris and Hayward are stretching the defense with their improved outside accuracy.

"We're starting to force our will on guys," Corbin said. "And they have to make the change to us instead of us having to make the change to them."

Millsap is the key. He's able to post up small forward counterparts while also doing an efficient job on defense.

Sure, he has to chase quicker guys around screens more often, but Millsap has accepted his new role and thrived in it. This from a guy who has always been a team player but hasn't shied from claiming he considers himself an NBA starting power forward in the past.

"My preference is to just be on the court," Millsap said. "I just want to play no matter where that is at. I'm going to try to fit in and try to find my way."

Added Jefferson: "Paul like to play. Paul will do anything that helped this team win, whatever it takes. You tell Paul to move to the point guard, he'll do it."

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