Read more: Utah Jazz vs. Phoenix Suns: Instant analysis
Read more: Utah Jazz vs. Phoenix Suns: Report card
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.
Since then, the season has been one of ups and downs, with sweet stretches like the six-game winning streak in March and rough patches like losing 11 of 14 in February.
The Jazz have integrated four young guys between the ages of 19 and 22 with veterans looking to prove themselves. They absorbed four late-season injuries to key players. And they kept their heads up even when it seemed they might prove their detractors right.
They've taken lumps, but managed to hand out some along the way as well.
"It's a huge accomplishment," Corbin said before the game, referring to the simple fact that the Jazz were in a play-in situation.
"It shows the determination and the character of the guys and the fight and the growth that they've shown and learning from situations early in the year," Corbin added. "There are just so many different things that we've grown through and lessons learned from."
Jefferson credited Corbin for being the glue that got and kept this Jazz team together.
"Coach is not the type of guy that's just going to let us give up," Jefferson said. "I always felt like we had a pretty good team. We just had to go out and play. And the last couple of weeks, that's what we've been doing."
That's what the Jazz did from the opening tip on this TNT-televised tilt. Jefferson, Millsap and DeMarre Carroll scored six straight points for the Jazz to set the tempo early on.
The Suns, who've overcome their own difficulties this season after starting with a 7-13 record, overcame the Jazz's quick start and took their own lead at 17-15 on a Shannon Brown trey.
Josh Howard then entered for the first time in over a month after rehabbing from a knee scope, scoring four quick points and helping the Jazz take a 25-19 lead after one quarter.
Derrick Favors was also instrumental in that late-quarter push with his dominating defense, which included five first-half blocked shots.7 comments on this story
Gordon Hayward, Devin Harris and Favors all played strong in the second quarter, leading the Jazz to a 49-42 halftime lead.
Harris and Hayward sent the Jazz into the locker room with something to cheer about. Harris poked the ball away from Nash and it ended up in Hayward's hands. He flung it downcourt to a sprinting Harris, who finished off the sequence with a layup.
The Jazz tried to put the Suns away in the third quarter, going ahead by as many as 10 points before Phoenix trimmed Utah's lead to 73-68 heading into the fourth.