SALT LAKE CITY — When a game gets rough, Utah Jazz coach Ty Corbin does not have the advantage of turning to one of the NBA's top superstars.
But he does have a secret weapon of sorts.
The second-year head coach has an ace, a wild card, a get-out-of-a-tough spot pass in the form of one self-effacing power forward named Paul Millsap. After being asked to play small forward in a move that seemed to turn the game in Utah's favor Monday night, Millsap admitted, he'd do just about anything he's asked to get on the court.
"It's a true luxury," said Corbin of what it's like to coach a guy like Millsap. "Not only will he do it, he will do it with a lot of energy and enthusiasm about winning and doing it. To have his talent on both ends of the floor, but the willingness to work hard and just do whatever it takes to win is just great."
And while having a guy who is willing to play any role, take on any challenge or deal with any situation is a coach's dream, it's also quite rare.
"I can't say I have," said center Al Jefferson of whether he's played with any other guy as versatile as Millsap. "If I have, I forgot. I haven't ever seen a guy like Paul, who no matter what kind of position you put him in, he's going to always rise to the top."
Monday night his willingness to play small forward helped the Jazz to a critical 102-97 win over the Blazers, as they make a push to earn a playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Jazz trailed by 14 midway through the second quarter when Corbin asked Millsap to join Jefferson and Favors in the front court as the small forward.
"We were struggling a little bit to get some points, and they were big inside," said Corbin. "Paul has played some three for us before, but it was just an opportunity to see if we can get another offensive punch out there and keep some size on the floor. It gives us a chance; it worked out well."
The Big Three helped shift the game's momentum by scoring 20 points in the final 51/2 minutes, while the defensive pressure held the Blazers' offense in check. By halftime that double-digit lead had dwindled to three points.
Jefferson said the decision to play the Big Three creates problems for opposing teams.
"It doesn't change much for us," Jefferson said. "Rebounding will automatically go up, and guys have to think about shooting over three guys who are going to contest your shot. For us, it's the same. The only one who really has to adjust is Paul, and he's the man for the job. Having to run up and around screens, chase the 3s around, if anybody has to do that job, he's the man for it."
Millsap barely cracks a smile when asked about his willingness to play any role — even point guard — to score some playing time.
"That's just who I am," he said of being willing to play any role the team asks of him. "That's who my family is. That's where I come from. I'm going to do whatever it takes."
Millsap doesn't see it as a sacrifice to put the team's needs first. He sees it as an opportunity.
"I've always been that way," he said. "I've always felt like I can do whatever. I've always believed in myself that I can accomplish anything."
He said he enjoyed the change of pace, pointing out that scoring was a bit easier but defending the smaller, quicker players was more challenging.
Jefferson said it was Millsap's defense that made the difference in playing the Big Three.
"You put him out there in a situation and he's going to adjust," said Jefferson. "He's going to do a great job, in my opinion, especially on the defensive end. That's the great thing. … He's a great offensive player, so I'm not surprised to see him score at the three. But it's the way he defended the three last night that was big for us."
Corbin said playing three big men is something he and his assistants discussed last summer.
"It's a great luxury to have big guys who can play physical and go after rebounds, attack them inside. … It gives us a real advantage," he said.
And the Jazz will need that advantage as they take on the Phoenix Suns tonight at Energy Solutions Arena. The Suns trail Utah in the playoff race, so it's critical for Utah to win if they hope to secure that eighth spot. As of Tuesday, Houston owned that eighth spot, with Utah ninth and Phoenix in 10th place.
Jazz on the air
Phoenix Suns (27-26) at Utah Jazz (28-26), 7 p.m.
TV: ROOT Radio: 1320 AM