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Paul Millsap blows it, then saves it as Jazz beat Wolves in OT

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(Paul Fraughton | The Salt Lake Tribune) . Utah's Josh Howard goes up for the shot against Minnesota's Nikola Pekovic. Thursday, March 15, 2012

By Steve Luhm

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Mar 15 2012 11:17PM
Updated Mar 16, 2012 12:04AM

In the book of amazing, almost unexplainable victories in franchise history, the Utah Jazz added a new chapter Thursday night against Minnesota.

The author: Paul Millsap.

The veteran forward finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high eight steals in Utah’s 111-105 overtime victory, but those numbers don’t begin to tell the story.

After the Jazz squandered a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter, they still could have won in regulation. But Millsap missed an uncontested layup at the buzzer, after a perfectly thrown inbounds pass by Jamaal Tinsley. Asked about the play, Millsap said: "I don’t know. I thought I put it up there just perfectly and, I mean, I missed it."

According to Tinsley, Millsap set a screen for Gordon Hayward on the play and then rolled to the basket without a defender close to him.

"I knew one of them would be open — either Paul was going to be open or Gordon was going to be open," Tinsley said. "I knew somebody was going to switch. I told them, ‘Just look for the ball.’ "

After Millsap’s layup fell off the rim and 18,053 fans gasped in astonishment, he crouched under the basket momentarily before walking slowly to the bench.

"My mind just went blank, " Millsap said. "I sat there for a minute just contemplating on it. After that, I had to move forward."

No problem there.

In overtime, Millsap made the biggest plays of a big game between two teams jockeying for position in the Western Conference playoff race.

"He showed true, true professionalism and toughness," coach Tyrone Corbin said.

With the score tied, 105-105, Millsap’s steal and assist set up Gordon Hayward’s go-ahead dunk with 56.9 seconds remaining. After another defensive stop, Millsap nailed a 17-foot jumper off a pick-and-roll with Devin Harris to give Utah a 109-105 lead with 19.2 seconds left.

Finally, Millsap knocked the ball away from Minnesota’s Kevin Love and Hayward iced the victory with two free throws. Like everyone else, Millsap’s miss at the end of regulation left Corbin shaking his head.

"Great pass, tough break missing the shot," he said. "It was a point-blank shot for him. But the overtime performance he had — getting his hand on the ball [and] making the big shot — just showed who he is. He’s a tough competitor that wants to do the right things."

Hayward finished with a season-high 26 points to lead the Jazz, but his missed free throw with 10.3 seconds left enabled Minnesota to force overtime on Nikola Pekovic’s late rebound basket.

"I wish it wouldn’t have gone to overtime," said Hayward. "We kind of lost it down the stretch. But we pulled it out. That’s something we’re trying to figure out how to do."

Said Corbin: "Gordon did a great job. He didn’t hang his head. He continued to fight …He didn’t feel sorry for himself and he made some good plays for us down the stretch. He had a great ballgame."

Rookie Alec Burks added 15 points for the Jazz, while second-year forward Derrick Favors contributed a season-high 16 rebounds.

In all, Corbin played his three young foundation players — Hayward, Burks and Favors — a total of 91 minutes.

It took one of Utah’s dependable veterans to close the deal, however.

"We couldn’t lose that game," Millsap said. "My team fought too hard to not win. Our team fought and fought. It was a great team effort."

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