Jazz: Kirilenko winded but happy after return from injury
For Andrei Kirilenko, his return from injury was an early birthday present.
For the Jazz, it was just what the doctor ordered.
After missing the previous 11 games following ankle surgery, Kirilenko finished with 14 points and three steals in 17½ minutes to help the Jazz pull away and beat Memphis 117-99 at EnergySolutions Arena.
Kirilenko, who turns 28 today, hadn't played in a game since Jan. 20. But with Carlos Boozer still sidelined and Memo Okur out with the flu, he gave the Jazz the boost they needed against the determined Grizzlies.
"It looked like he didn't miss any time at all," said Deron Williams. "Offensively, defensively. He was his energetic self, as usual. He definitely added to our team."
When Kirilenko entered the game with 4:21 left in the first quarter, the crowd roared.
"The fans gave him a great ovation, which was great to see," said Jarron Collins. "I know he has worked extremely hard to get back."
Collins continued: "He's such a unique athlete. He sits for what, four weeks? And he's still in tremendous shape. He didn't look tired out there at all."
Asked how his surgically repaired ankle held up during his first game back, Kirilenko said, "No pain at all. Just in my breath. I can't catch my breath. But it's coming."
Kirilenko admitted he got leg-weary during a critical sequence early in the fourth quarter, when Memphis was still in the game.
Leading 97-88 with 8:18 remaining, Kirilenko scored on a reverse layup, ran back on defense, picked Grizzly point guard Mike Conley clean near the top of the key and went to the other end again for a semi-dunk that made it 101-88.
"I almost fell down," said Kirilenko. "And if I fall down, I don't get back up. I was so tired at that point. Everybody was laughing at me. [Trainer] Gary Briggs said, 'Do you need an oxygen mask?'"
Kirilenko didn't expect to play as much as he did against the Grizzlies, but he was needed because Memphis trailed only 92-88 early in the fourth quarter.
"I was expecting less time," Kirilenko said. "... But I think it's a good idea when you play a little bit more than you expect, so you kind of force yourself [to take] that little extra workout."
Kirilenko summed up his performance as "triple joy," citing his return from injury, the Jazz's victory and his birthday.
"I thought Andrei played extremely well when he was out there," said coach Jerry Sloan.