Al Jefferson got a little choked up after the Jazz clinched a playoff berth with Tuesday night's 100-88 victory over Phoenix.
"We never gave up," Jefferson said. "We never put our heads down."
The win improved the Jazz's record to 35-30, meaning Utah is now 15-8 since losing at Sacramento in late February.
Jefferson credited coach Tyrone Corbin and the chemistry in the locker room for the Jazz's ability to survive the tough times during the lockout-shortened season.
"If the chemistry wasn't there, we probably would have turned away from coach," Jefferson said. "But that's the beauty of this team. Everybody was humble. If I scored, the whole team felt like they scored. ... I've never been a part of [anything] like this. I think that being humble and understanding what we have to do helped us get to where we are right now."
Against the Suns, Corbin successfully employed a big line-up featuring Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Jefferson. They combined for 57 points, 42 rebounds and eight blocked shots. In the fourth quarter, they contributed 19 points as well as 18 rebounds.
The Jazz owned an 85-80 lead with 4:17 remaining when Jefferson dunked on the Suns' Marcin Gortat. He ended up scoring eight straight points and, in a span of four possession, Utah bumped its lead to 13.
Jefferson "is our go-to guy in the post," Millsap said, "and he showed up big for us tonight."
Said Jefferson: "I was forcing my shots in the beginning. ... I knew I just had to relax. Once I got that dunk, it made me feel good. I knew I just had to go play Al Jefferson's game and that's what I did."
Jefferson praised Favors, who had 13 points and 11 rebounds. He tied his career-high with five blocked shots -- all in the first half.
"He's a beast, man," Jefferson said. "He does so many wonderful things on the offensive and defensive end. His confidence is getting better and better. That's scary because I think he has a chance to be one of the top players in this league one day. And I've seen it from Day 1."
Millsap scored a game-high 26 points. He also grabbed 15 rebounds, handed out four assists and came up with three steals.
Like Jefferson, Millsap liked the effectiveness of Utah's big line-up.
"On the offensive end, it creates mismatches for everyone," Millsap explained. "On the defensive end, you've got me out there roaming, trying to get my hand on the basketball, and we've got two shot-blockers down the middle. So we've got the best of both worlds on the defensive end."
Asked about reaching the playoffs for the 25th time in franchise history, Millsap smiled and said, "Great, man. I feel like we accomplished something big. ... People picked us last in the West and that was kind of a slap in our face. We've got some older guys -- veteran guys -- who can play and we've got some younger guys that can play. You put that together and we make a hell of a team."
-- Steve Luhm
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