ATLANTA — Though it didn’t sound believable, Paul Millsap said Friday’s contest between his old team, the Utah Jazz, and his new team, the Atlanta Hawks, was “just another game.”
Turned out to be just another Millsap-like game for him and another loss for the squad he played with for the past seven seasons.
Millsap did admit to being "anxious" as this game approached, but the anticipation leading up to this reunion night was a lot more exciting than the actual game.
To give an indication of how this 118-85 Hawks win went, Millsap grabbed his 10th rebound before anybody on the Jazz hit double digits in scoring.
Millsap finished with a double-double — no surprise there — and totaled 14 points, 10 boards, three assists and one impressive block. Former Jazz guys DeMarre Carroll and Kyle Korver were also instrumental in the Hawks making this a laugher from early on.
"We was excited too (about playing against old friends)," Jazz forward Derrick Favors said. "Their whole team just came out with more energy and they got a win."
While Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin lamented the “low energy” of his squad, he couldn’t help but heap praise on the old Utah players.
“Those are guys we had here (with Utah) for a while. They are doing a good job for their team,” Corbin said. “They play the game hard and they are who they are. They work hard every play and they’re still doing those things for another ball club.”
Millsap had the biggest impact and the most impressive stat line of the Utah alumni. Best of all for the overlooked, undersized guy the Jazz selected with the 47th pick in the 2006 draft, his Hawks improved to 15-12 with the blowout victory over his first NBA team.
“Paul was very collected. You would have never guessed that he had played there,” Hawks center Al Horford said. “He looked normal. It was just another game for him.”
Atlanta had a slew of highlights Friday, including Korver stretching his NBA record 3-point streak to 96 games and big scoring nights from backup guard Lou Williams (25) and Horford (23). But Millsap seemed to be in the Hawks’ best moments in the third straight home win for the Eastern Conference’s third-best team.
The 6-8 forward had one of his classic, powerful “Millslams,” introduced Trey Burke to one of his “Millslaps” by soaring to block the rookie’s layup attempt and teamed up with Carroll for the fast break of the night. During that play, Carroll stole the ball, hustled to keep it inbounds, dribbled behind his back and then dished a no-look pass to Millsap for an easy dunk.
“It was weird, but at the same time, he came out with a focus,” Favors, Millsap’s understudy for the past few years, said after Utah dropped to 7-22. “He wanted to beat us, so we have to come out with that same type of intensity the next game.”
That will be tonight when the Jazz visit another old friend in Charlotte: former Utah center Al Jefferson.
Utah will have to play much better than it did in this one to be competitive against the surprising Bobcats, who improved to 13-14 with a 116-106 win in Detroit on Friday.
Against the Hawks, the Jazz fell behind 30-16 after the first quarter, only scored 34 points in the opening half and simply looked like they could’ve used Millsap, Carroll and Korver.
Reserves Alec Burks and Enes Kanter (13 rebounds) led the Jazz with 13 points apiece, but Utah only shot 37.2 percent. It took until seconds remained in the third quarter before any Utah player hit double figures. Hayward finally scored his 11th point late in that period, and he was the only starter to hit double digits or play his usual minutes (29).
“We just didn’t have it from the beginning of the ballgame tonight,” Corbin said. “We have to come out ready to play.”
Millsap had his game face on early in the day. He cracked a grin after the morning shootaround while joking that his memory was failing him when asked to name highlights of his seven-year stint in Salt Lake City.
The 2007 Western Conference Finals run? Getting a chance to shine alongside Big Al for three years after Carlos Boozer moved on? Maybe the Miami Miracle?
“All of it’s together. It just brings up (memories of) one incredible career in Utah, not just one memory sticks out,” Millsap said. “Over the course of years, I met great people, befriended a lot of people. Just great times.”
Millsap admitted to being surprised the Jazz didn’t bring him back this past offseason when the team went into rebuild mode, but he also “can’t deny that I’m happy here” in Atlanta. He signed a two-year deal with the Hawks this summer.
"Both situations were great for me," he said.
Carroll, who finished with five rebounds, four points, four steals, four assists and one block, said he’s moved on but holds fond memories of his time in Utah. He signed with the Jazz in February 2012 after being waived by Denver and then played mostly a backup role through the next season.
“I cherish every moment I was there,” Carroll said. “The fans was the best, the organization. (Former general manager) Kevin O’Connor actually really remade my career.”
But like Millsap, Carroll didn’t make a big deal out of playing against his former team.
“I just want to go out there and do what I did,” Carroll said. “I’m the Junkyard Dog, and you really can’t take that away from me.”
The Hawks visit the Jazz on March 10, which will be Millsap’s first pro game in the Beehive State as a visitor.
“It will be interesting to see when we go to Utah. Maybe he will get a little (emotional),” Horford said. “He’s one of those guys you can never tell, because he’s got the same face and the same focus.”
Tell Jazz fans about it.
NOTES: Hayward collided with Atlanta guard Jeff Teague and crashed to the floor in a scary moment in the second half. He returned after having the wind knocked out of him. “I was looking at the ball and got hit right in the chest and fell down on my back, but it’s all right. I’m good. It was like a receiver going across the field. That’s why I don’t play football.” Rookie point guard Trey Burke only scored two points on 1-for-8 shooting with three assists two nights after his best NBA game in Orlando when he had 30 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. “It’s definitely difficult,” he said. “I’ve got to just learn how to just stay at it, just continue to stay aggressive, continue to try to get in the paint, make plays for the team. I felt like I started to fall in love with the outside shot early on.” Atlanta, which earned its first wire-to-wire win, has beaten Utah five times in a row.
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