The B-Side: Paul Millsap and the Game-Winner That Could Have Been...Again
The B-Side is a recurring feature here at Bleacher Report that gives kudos to the unheralded: the brilliantly executed set that leads to a bland layup, the swarming coverage that causes a shot clock violation or even the phenomenal move that ends with a blown finish. Every night in the NBA is filled with plays that are noteworthy for a wide variety of reasons, and this space is set aside to enjoy the alternatives to the standard highlight—one clip at a time.
Sunday night's game between the Atlanta Hawks and Utah Jazz held some sneaky potential for intrigue. No two teams in the NBA this season have done more in spite of their faults, their injuries, and, in essence, themselves. Both teams—Atlanta in their level play and Utah in their periodic highs—have been among the season's most delightful surprises.
This specific game lived up to every bit of that billing, as the two perpetual underdogs matched each other step for step in a quadruple-overtime event that was alternatingly spectacular and excruciating, but always supremely entertaining. Neither team played the other (or the circumstances) perfectly, but gave just enough to extend their in-game life in five-minute increments.
Naturally, as a byproduct of the game's result, both the Jazz and the Hawks missed their share of potential game-winners; crucial jumper after crucial jumper found front rim as the players fell victim to the game's attrition. Yet one particular botched game-winning attempt stuck out, if only for its nostalgia:
An ad man once told me (and you, probably, and all of AMC's adoring audience) that in Greek, nostalgia literally means, "the pain from an old wound." It's a twinge in your heart more powerful than memory alone. This play isn't merely a potential game-winner—it's a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards, and takes us (and in this case, Paul Millsap) to a place that we ache to go again.
If that set looked familiar, it should. Millsap had a chance to win a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on the very same play-action not 10 days ago, but saw his wide-open layup attempt bounce from the basket as the clock expired:
Millsap was given a second chance, however fleeting it may have been. With 1.1 seconds remaining in the first overtime, and the Jazz and Hawks deadlocked at 100, the same exact set unfolded.
Devin Harris wheeled around the baseline to the perimeter, mimicking a simple mechanic that many teams use as an easy inbound release. Gordon Hayward faked a screen for Harris deep in the paint, only to set a very familiar back pick for Millsap. The Jazz big man stunted, freed himself from Ivan Johnson's coverage, stepped uncontested toward the rim, and...didn't get the ball.
He was given a chance at redemption in the exact same scenario that led to his previous error, but the ball, again, didn't quite go his way. Harris hoisted up a difficult, fading jumper, and on to double overtime (and triple overtime, and quadruple overtime) the Jazz went—only to eventually fall, 133-139.
Ty Corbin made a great call that created another wide-open look at the rim, as the Jazz leaned on a play that had previously proven successful against the weary legs and minds of their embattled opponents. Only the slightest hesitation—whether due to the pressing five-second count, or a recollection of that previous miss—kept Millsap from actually setting foot in his time machine; only that slightest hesitation prevented him from retroactively setting wrongs right.
The shot was there, but this time it wasn't his to take. Instead, Millsap was simply made to watch as the pass went elsewhere—left as alone under the rim in that moment as he was not 10 days ago.
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