After losing all-star guard Deron Williams and hall-of-fame coach Jerry Sloan in February 2011, the Jazz hobbled to the finish line of the 2011 season with an 8-20 record. A retooled Utah Jazz team, under the direction of coach Tyrone Corbin, entered the shortened 2011-2012 season with a combination of veteran players and young talent and a goal of reaching the postseason. Mission accomplished.
Having experienced his own personal roller coaster ride throughout his career, Al Jefferson will return to the postseason for the first time since his rookie year. Jefferson finished the night with 18 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, and two blocks. Big Al made his playoff hopes known in the final period, at one point scoring eight Jazz points in a row.
Derrick Favors reminded Jazz fans why the organization made him a key piece in the rebuilding process. In addition to five first-half blocks, Favors finished the night with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Paul Millsap also contributed a game-high 26 points, along with 15 rebounds, four assists, and three steals.
The impact of Utah’s big men was immediately felt in tonight’s victory, as Utah scored 20 of its 25 first-quarter points in the paint.
Utah’s defense limited the production of the normally strong Phoenix Suns’ offense. The Suns shot 5-of-23 from behind the arc and finished the night ten points below their season average. Phoenix starting center, Marcin Gortat, scored just two points on 1-of-8 shooting. Former MVP, Steve Nash, also had a relatively quiet night, though his strong third-quarter performance brought the Suns back from 10 points down in the final minutes of the period.
Twelve minutes away from playoff life, the Jazz began to implode. In the first two minutes of the final quarter, the Suns had three and-one possessions and recaptured the lead. The Jazz, however, weathered the storm with a 19-4 run to save the game and their playoff lives.
After a rocky start to the 2011-2012 season and after an even rockier 14 months, this rebuilt Utah Jazz team has won four games in a row and eight of its last twelve. With one game left in the season, the Jazz will look to gain more momentum before storming into a long-awaited post-season fight.