Last night, with the Bulls trailing 89-86 and 14.3 seconds to go, Jimmy Butler soared to steal a Kyle Korver pass. Korver was able to recover enough to force a jump ball, though, the result of which could seal a win for Atlanta or open up the door for a Chicago comeback. Korver is a little bit longer (his standing reach was measured at 8’ 6.5” at the combine, compared to Butler’s 8’ 5.5”), but Butler’s vertical leap (32” no-step) was much better than Korver’s (25.5”), even before you consider the fact that Korver is now 33 years old and Butler is 25.
Combine that with Butler’s reputation as an athletic freak (compared to Korver’s rep as a spot shooter), and there probably weren’t a lot of people in Philips Arena who thought the Hawks were going to end up with the ball here.
Truth be told, though, Jimmy Butler did win this tip. You can see Korver hit the ball just enough to keep Butler from directing it easily to Pau Gasol or Taj Gibson, but Butler won the tip so that, given a second jump and tip, he could have controlled it.
Paul Millsap didn’t give him that second chance.
The NBA rulebook states that a player cannot cross the jump circle until the ball has been touched by one of the jumpers within the circle. Most players, though, afraid that crossing early will result in a violation and a turnover for their team, choose not to cross that circle at all until the ball has been corralled. You can see that’s the case for everyone on the court not named Paul Millsap:
But Millsap was well within the rules to attack the ball here. Not only did he have the wherewithal to grab the tip when no one else was ready, though, he also got the ball to Jeff Teague, a guy who’s shooting 88% from the free throw line this year.
With so little time left, the Bulls were forced to foul. Teague knocked down both shots, giving the Hawks a five-point advantage and putting the game out of reach. They eventually won by seven, 93-86. And though Korver did just enough on the jump ball, and Teague did what he was supposed to do, it was Millsap who did something out of the ordinary to help the Hawks win.
It was a small thing, but it’s just another reminder of how good these guys are, and how little determines the difference in a game.
For the 17-7 Hawks, this one marks their tenth win in eleven games - with their only loss coming on a buzzer-beater by Tobias Harris. It’s also their first win against a team with a winning record over this span, a good sign, considering the fact that ten of their next eleven are against teams who currently have winning records.