Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — They were down 17, to the NBA's highest-scoring team, with two-and-a-half minutes to go in the third quarter.
No better reason to call it a night and pack for Portland.
The Jazz, however, overcame temptation and rallied to beat Phoenix 124-115 on Thursday at sold-out EnergySolutions Arena.
"That's why you keep playing," coach Jerry Sloan said after his 26-18 club won its third straight game and for the seventh time in eight outings, and moved into fourth place in the NBA's Western Conference, percentage points ahead of Portland.
"You never know what's gonna happen," Sloan added. "You know, a lot of times when you get in a situation like you think the mountain's too high to climb and say, 'Well, we'll get 'em next time.'"
Not this time.
Not with Andrei Kirilenko blocking three shots and scoring a team-high 25 points, giving him a 20.7 average during the current win streak.
Not with Carlos Boozer scoring 21 and pulling down 20 rebounds, giving him his fifth career regular-season 20/20 game, including three now with the Jazz.
Not with Deron Williams scoring 18 and dishing 11 assists while holding Suns point Steve Nash to a sub-average 15 points.
And most certainly not with rookie Wesley Matthews scoring a career-high 21 points off the bench — 15 in the second half — and helping spark the comeback with beyond-decent defense.
"We did a great job," Boozer said, "of executing, staying poised, keeping our composure — because they're an explosive team."
The 26-20 Suns showed that in the first half, when they scored 45 in the second period — the most Utah's allowed in a quarter this season — en route to a Jazz opponent-high 69 points.
Twenty-four points in the half and 19 points in the second quarter came from reserve guard Goran Dragic, who finished with a career-high 32.
Dragic and the rest of the Suns cooled a bit after the break, though, in large part because the Jazz buckled down.
"In the third and fourth quarters we started playing more aggressive, especially on shooters. And they still make those shots," Kirilenko said. "But at the end of the game, when you've got those (defenders) right in your face, it's really tough to make every single one.
"And finally they started missing at the end of the game. They got tired. We made them tired, so I think it worked."
After Channing Frye hit a 3-pointer to make 96-79 Suns, marking one of Phoenix's 17 Jazz opponent franchise-record made treys, Utah came out of a timeout with 2:28 left in the third and closed the quarter with a 12-0 run.
Matthews had a three-pointer and a layup during the run, which sent the Jazz into the fourth within striking distance at 96-91.
"How big it is to (be) down five rather than down 17? Monumental," Matthews said.
Utah extended the run to 16-0 with a dunk and a scoop from Kirilenko, tied the game at 100 with another trey from Matthews, tied it again at 106 with two Matthews free throws and took the lead for good when two Boozer freebies made it 108-106 with 5:16 remaining.
"We said, 'Look guys, if we keep fighting, we keep playing hard, they're gonna give us a chance to get back in it,' " Boozer said. "Next thing you know, we come out of the huddle ... and our confidence continued to grow. We made bucket after bucket, guys hit big shots."
Suddenly, the mountaintop didn't seem nearly so far off.
"They played well as a team," Sloan said.
"I thought they really wanted to win the basketball game as a group, and it was to watch them play."
Utah made good on nine straight possessions late in the fourth, ending with a dagger trey from Williams that put the Jazz up 122-111 with 1:56 remaining.
With that Sloan's club capped a two-and-a-half stretch that's also featured a road win at Dallas, a buzzer-beating home victory over Cleveland and a win at San Antonio in which Utah overcame an early 25-0 Spurs run.
"I guess we've matured," said Boozer, who along with the rest of the Jazz next visit Portland on Wednesday night. "As a group of guys, we continue to believe in each other."
NOTES: Nash finished with 15 assists and became the eighth NBA player to hit the 8,000 plateau, and just the seventh with 14,000 points and 8,000 assists. ... Because he jammed a knuckle in Saturday's win over New Jersey, Kirilenko played Monday with two fingers taped together on his left, non-shooting hand. ... Jarron Collins didn't play (coach's decision) for the Suns. The longtime Jazz big man has appeared in 15 Phoenix games this season.
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