Al Jefferson last played in an NBA playoff game in 2005 when he was a member of the Boston Celtics. It was the first round against the eighth seeded Indiana Pacers where they were beat four games to 3.
Ever since then, Jefferson has had to watch his teams struggle through losing seasons and watch the playoffs from the couch.
Not this year.
With the 100-88 win over the Phoenix Suns Tuesday night, Jefferson and the Utah Jazz have secured a spot in the Western Conference Playoffs.
“Seven long years since I have been in the playoffs,” Jefferson said. “It’s a blesing. It’s a great opportunity to get here. A lot of people counted us out. Nobody thought this team would be in a position to get in the playoffs, and we made it. It’s a great group of guys and everyone on our team deserves it.”
The Jazz were in control for most of the game, utilizing strong performances from their big men, three of which had double-doubles in the game. Paul Millsap led the way with 26 points and 15 rebounds, along with three steals, while Jefferson contributed 18 points and 16 rebounds. Derrick Favors rounded out the impressive night with 13 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks.
“I just came out doing my part, playing my role,” Favors said. “I just come out and play defense, rebound and block shots and try to start the (fast) break.”
Along with the big three, Gordon Hayward almost achieved another double-double with 11 points and eight assists, while point guard Devin Harris added 14 points.
“That’s who we are,” head coach Tyrone Corbin said. “We need everybody that we have. The guys have been great all year supporting each other, making the right plays. I’ve changed the lineups and rotations at different times, and the guys just come out and play and make the most of the minutes on the floor. We’re going to need that to continue to get better.”
The Jazz have been a perennial playoff contender over the past few years, but missed the playoffs last year after the departure of Deron Williams and former head coach Jerry Sloan. However, the Jazz made the playoffs each of the previous four seasons before that, and have been in the playoffs in 24 of the last 28 years, including a stretch of 20 straight seasons.
However, this year feels different than that Utah postseason legacy, especially considering the youth of the team, and a new coach in Corbin.
“It sounds great,” Corbin said. “It’s a credit to these guys. The coaching staff did a great job. It’s a tremendous achievement for a group of guys that laid it out there every night. Whatever happened, good or bad, they stayed together. That’s the most rewarding thing to see them be rewarded for all the hard work they put in.”
At the outset of the shortened season, many of the analysts predicted that the Jazz wouldn’t make the playoffs, some of them even going as far as picking them last in the Western Conference.
“We worked all year for this,” Favors said. “(Many experts) were down on us early in the year saying we weren’t going to make the playoffs and we had to prove everybody wrong.”
With the chants of “playoffs” echoing through the sellout crowd of 19,911 at Energy Solutions Arena, the Jazz can finally say that they have made the playoffs. But they’re not satisfied.
“We battled through everything,” Millsap said. “Nobody expected us to be where we’re at, but we’re there now. Hopefully, we’re going to make some noise.”