Jazz Rally From 15 Down, Top Suns
Utah 107, Phoenix 99
SALT LAKE CITY, March 21 (Ticker) -- A comeback victory against a quality opponent could give the Utah Jazz a tremendous emotional boost in their push for the playoffs.
Mehmet Okur had 24 points and 14 rebounds and Andrei Kirilenko added 22 and a career-high 18 as the Jazz defeated the Phoenix Suns, 107-99.
"Hopefully, today's first half is a good lesson for us," Okur said. "We did score in the first half, but we couldn't guard them. We came out there in the second half, played good defense and helped each other execute on the other end."
"This was a big win for us," Jazz guard Deron Williams said. "We needed it. We struggled against this team all year. It's a tight race right now. We're not too far out. We have a shot, we just need to keep winning."
After James Jones opened the second half with a 3-pointer that gave Phoenix a 62-47 lead, Utah came back with a 30-11 run, capped by 11 consecutive points. Okur scored nine points, including a 3-pointer and three-point play, and Williams added seven in the burst, finishing with a jumper for a 77-73 edge with 3:02 left in the third quarter.
"I think we just started playing defense the way we should play it," Kirilenko said. "We just started stopping them on the fast break."
"We were soft defensively," Suns guard Steve Nash said. "They got easy layups, and on the offensive end, we went through a big drought. We just didn't score at the rate we are accustomed to. That's a bad combination."
The Suns ended a six-minute drought without a basket with 3-pointers by Raja Bell and Leandro Barbosa and a 21-footer by Nash to tie the score, 91-91, with 6:31 left. The Jazz responded with an 11-2 spurt triggered by a 3-pointer by Okur and capped by another from Williams for a 102-93 lead with 2:51 to play.
"We got some shots, they missed some shots, and we converted," Williams said. "We forced some turnovers and they weren't able to run as much. That was good for us."
As Phoenix was trying to mount a late comeback, Kirilenko came up with three crucial blocks - including two on Suns forward Shawn Marion - in the final 4 1/2 minutes.
"That's A.K., all year," Williams said. "We know he's going to get some of those. That's what we does. He's hustling. He's everywhere, getting deflections and blocking shots and just giving us energy."
"A couple of them were fouls," Marion said. "The referees called the game to their momentum. They had the momentum, so they gave them the calls they liked. But more power to him."
Nash's three-point play made it 102-96 with 2:35 left before Devin Brown fed Kirilenko for a dunk with 1:29 to go. Nash sank a 3-pointer, but Kirilenko and Okur combined to make 3-of-4 free throws to seal the win and avoid a season series sweep.
After playing what coach Jerry Sloan called an "atrocious" first half, the Jazz outscored the Suns, 60-40, in the second, holding Phoenix to just 26 percent (12-of-46) shooting from the floor.
"We just came out with a little more fire," Jazz forward Carlos Boozer said. "We tried to come out in the second half and help each other and trust each other, and we did a good job of that."
The Jazz had a 54-35 rebounding edge after shuffling the starting lineup. The 6-9 Kirilenko was the shooting guard, the 6-7 Matt Harpring moved into the small forward slot and the 6-11 Boozer was at center.
"That's what happens," Marion said. "We didn't give up shots, we gave up rebounds tonight. Teams are trying to go big on us, crash the boards on us. That's our biggest weakness. Our defense has got to pick us up."
Boozer scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and Williams added 17 with 11 assists for Utah, which shot 51 percent (41-of-80).
"We should play like this every night," Okur said. "If you want to have success in this league and make the playoffs, you should play good defense and help each other at the other end."
Nash had 20 points and 10 assists, Bell scored 18 points and Boris Diaw 16 for the Suns (45-21), who have a six-game lead over the Los Angeles Clippers atop the Pacific Division.