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Utah Jazz punch playoff ticket with 100-88 win over Suns

Published: Tuesday, April 24 2012 11:24 p.m. MDT

Utah Jazz guard Gordon Hayward (20) is fouled by Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash (13) on a break away to the hoop as the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns play Tuesday, April 24, 2012 in Energy Solutions arena.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — The playoff drought — longer for some members of the Utah Jazz than others — is over.

After a postseason off, the Jazz will be back in the NBA's Big Dance once again after eliminating the Phoenix Suns in a tense and thrilling 100-88 victory tonight at EnergySolutions Arena.

A raucous crowd of 19,911 chanted "Playoffs! Playoffs! Playoffs!" toward the end of the game as the Jazz capped a season that has been both rough and rewarding for the franchise.

The clean-up crew might be busy for a while cleaning up the confetti, but they probably won't mind.

Earlier Tuesday, center Al Jefferson said, "It's the biggest game of my life." Hours later, he played like he meant it, especially late when he scored eight consecutive points to almost single-handedly put the Suns away and punch the Jazz's playoff ticket.

Jefferson ended up with 18 points, 16 rebounds and his first trip to the playoffs since his rookie season with Boston in 2005.

Along with Big Al, there was no shortage of heroes for the Jazz on a night in which the team earned its 25th playoff berth in the past 29 years.

Utah's Big Three had perhaps its best outing together, with the trio each tallying double-doubles. Paul Millsap led the Jazz with 26 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, and Derrick Favors came off the bench to total a much-needed 13 points and 11 rebounds.

The Jazz improved to 35-30 and finish off the regular season at home Thursday against Portland. That game could end up being important if Denver (36-28) loses its next two games, because Utah holds the tiebreaker and could finish with the No. 7 seed.

Otherwise, it appears the Jazz will be headed to San Antonio to take on the Western Conference-leading Spurs.

Devin Harris, back in the playoffs for the first time since 2007, scored 15 points and played Steve Nash pretty tough.

Gordon Hayward, one of seven Jazz players who've never been in the NBA postseason, added 11 points and eight assists.

Jared Dudley topped Phoenix (33-32) with 15 points and Nash had 14 points and 11 assists. The Suns played without Channing Frye (shoulder), which hurt Phoenix's offense.

Even so, Phoenix had a 76-74 lead in the fourth quarter before Utah went on a tear to end the game.

Millsap started the game-winning surge with a free throw, followed by a Favors dunk and a Harris 3-pointer, giving Utah an 80-76 lead.

Moments later, Big Al went on his spurt to push the Jazz into the playoff position.

Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin couldn't be prouder of his team for the way the players have handled themselves through adversity and challenges all season long.

The Jazz looked like they might live down to pundits' low expectations when they began the season with a 1-3 record, including three blowout losses.

But Utah sent a message that this might be a special season — considering the circumstances — when it responded with five straight wins.

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