SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As he helplessly watched his team squander an advantage, a Sacramento Kings' fan in the small Arco Arena audience hollered out in bemused frustration.
"We can't stand to have the lead!" the spectator shouted. "It hurts!"
Turns out, the Kings didn't need to ingest any pain-killers to dull the hurt of a lead that lasted.
Picking up an old habit, the Jazz snuck out of Sacramento with a come-from-behind 107-104 victory.
Utah, which trailed 87-80 to begin the fourth quarter and by as many as 10 points in the second half, won for the 13th time this season after trailing by double digits.
Even though this was against a struggling 12-win team, the Jazz admitted they needed a bounce-back win in a big way after Saturday’s 121-106 home loss to Oklahoma City and after having lost nine of 12.
"It was huge," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "Everybody knows the situation we're in and the way we've stubbed our toe here and there."
Along with the return of the team's early season M.O., the thriller also featured a comeback by Andrei Kirilenko.
After telling reporters he felt as excited as a little kid to return to action after missing three games with a sprained left ankle, Kirilenko scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots to help lift Utah to its sixth straight win over Sacramento.
"Andrei, I thought he really made some good plays, rebounded the basketball, tough rebounds," Sloan said. "And (he) made some very good plays for us on the offensive end."
Though Kirilenko missed a 2 of 4 free throws in the final 22.2 seconds to keep things a bit more interesting than the visitors might have preferred, he gave the Jazz the lead for good at 103-101 with a strong drive with just under two minutes remaining.
Kirilenko also had a couple of key rebounds in the final moments, and fittingly ended up with the ball as the clock ran down to zero.
Offensively, several Jazz players took turns tickling the twine.
Center Al Jefferson came out firing in the first quarter, scoring 10 quick points as Utah took an early lead that it couldn't hold.
But Jefferson finished with a team-best 23 points on 10-for-18 shooting. Big Al also had a huge steal in the final 40 seconds to prevent Sacramento from getting a potential go-ahead shot in the last half-minute.
Paul Millsap fouled out with 1:36 remaining, but he left the game with 18 points and six rebounds. The power forward hit six straight free throws in the latter part of the fourth quarter and nailed a jumper to help Utah as it eventually overtook the Kings late in the final period.
"Paul played well on offense and defense," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "(Millsap and Jefferson) have been key for us all season."
So, of course, has Williams.
The All-Star tweaked his injured right wrist early on — requiring a tape job on the bench after a timeout — but he made dazzling drives all game long and finished with 21 points, nine assists, six rebounds and two steals.
Though his wrist remains sore, the injury won't sideline Williams as long as he can help it.
"It doesn't bother me until I follow through," Williams said. "I've just got to play through it."
One huge brightspot — as in 7-foot-1 and 285-pounds of hugeness — was the play of backup big man Kyrylo Fesenko.
The Ukrainian was unleashed from the bench, and he unleashed one of the top offensive outputs of his four-year career. Fesenko, who averages 2.2 points, powered in a season-high 11 points.
Not only did he spark Utah by nearly matching his career-high of a dozen points — set back on Dec. 27, 2008 — but Fesenko also gave Utah some needed defensive grit.
Fesenko, who missed 3 of 4 from the foul line, also grabbed seven rebounds and notched one big compliment from a coach who isn't shy of being critical of his antics.
"I think that's one of his better games," Sloan said. "He played bigger. Sometimes he plays like he's 6-1, and he's 7-feet tall."
Sloan added that he prefers "when (Fes) starts taking up space and goes to the basket and tries to get to the free-throw line. The biggest thing is dunking it first and then get the free throws."
Sloan also praised sparkplug playmaker Earl Watson, whose coast-to-coast layup with eight minutes remaining tied the game at 91-all after Utah had fallen behind 82-72.
Rookie DeMarcus Cousins led the Kings with 25 points and 14 rebounds, but he also had that critical turnover and fouled Kirilenko in the waning seconds.
Tyreke Evans had 21 points for a 12-36 Sacramento team that gave 31-22 Utah all it could handle.
"People don't realize — they mark it down as a victory and then if you don't win, you're a bunch of bums," Sloan said. "But these are hard games to play, they always have been."
The Jazz have another tough one Wednesday when the Chicago Bulls come to town and bring former Utah players Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer along with their surging squad.
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