for this game

Kirilenko returns, leads Jazz over Grizzlies

Feb 18, 2009 - 6:53 AM SALT LAKE CITY (Ticker) -- It wasn't exactly a full lineup, but it was a start for the Utah Jazz.

Andrei Kirilenko returned from ankle surgery and provided a spark off the bench, as the Jazz got a good jump on the second half of the season with a 117-99 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday.

"I think we got more than expected," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "He looked great yesterday in practice. He looked like he hadn't missed any time at all. You know, fresh legs. He played great tonight, offensively and defensively, his energetic sense as usual. Definitely added to our team."

The Jazz closed the first half with an impressive victory over the high-powered Los Angeles Lakers and went into the break optimistic that they could get something going over the season's final two months. With Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer set to return from lengthy injuries, that seemed like a possibility.

While Boozer remained sidelined following surgery on his left knee, Kirilenko returned and posted 14 points and three steals in 18 minutes.

"I thought he played extremely well while he was out there," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "He made a big steal, he got down the floor and made the basket. He came in and blocked a couple of shots. That's something we've missed when he's (not) out there."

His contributions were needed, as starting center Mehmet Okur was out with the flu.

"We've dealt with adversity all year. We've dealt with guys being out and it definitely helped having A.K. back this game with (Okur) being out," Williams said. "Hopefully, Memo gets well soon and we can get everyone back full strength because we're definitely going to need it against Boston (on Thursday)."

The Jazz survived an ugly second quarter to take control in the third, as Williams' 22-footer late in the period sparked a 9-0 run to open up a double-digit lead.

After the Grizzlies cut the deficit to 92-88 early in the final quarter, Utah responded with an 18-2 spurt as Memphis went nearly seven minutes without a field goal.

"I think it was pretty important in the fourth quarter; we had a pretty good stretch where we concentrated defensively, kind of helped each other and get our hands on the ball," Kirilenko said.

The catalyst for the Jazz, as usual, was Deron Williams. The star point guard had his five-game streak of 30-plus points snapped, but he did more than enough, finishing with 20 points and 15 assists.

"I thought we played much better in the second half. We were a little bit more active on the defensive end, got some easy baskets. Again, we were shorthanded," Sloan said. "Deron Williams, of course, I thought he had another terrific game."

All looked to be well for Utah early on, as Williams dished out six assists in the first quarter alone despite Okur's absence and replacement Jarron Collins' struggles. The reserve center was blocked on his first three shot attempts, but slashers Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Miles picked up the offensive slack, combining for 17 points in the opening frame.

"We need that. We need those guys to step up and be consistent scorers for us," Williams said. "It takes a load off everyone. It takes a load off me. I don't have to try to go out there and score 30. I just tried to read the flow of the game tonight, and they were hot early so I tried to get them the ball."

But the Jazz went ice-cold in the second quarter, scoring just three points over the first 6 1/2 minutes as Memphis opened up a seven-point edge.

"We were out there one stretch where it looked like we had boxing gloves on our hands," Sloan said. "The ball was going everywhere, we couldn't catch a ball, it was going off our head. That's what caused us some problems and let them get back in the ballgame."

But they answered with six straight points, then finally pulled back ahead moments later with back-to-back 3-pointers by Miles and Williams.

Collins' tip-in of his own missed layup early in the third gave Utah the lead for good.

"I thought we played well for three quarters," Memphis guard Mike Conley said. "We came out in the second half and made some good plays defensively, got them out of their offense a little bit. The Jazz are a good veteran team. They came back in the fourth quarter and made some good plays."

With the victory, the Jazz have now won five of six as they enter a pivotal final stretch. They finished the first half one game up on the Phoenix Suns for the eighth spot in the West but begin the second half on a four-game homestand, which continues Thursday against the reigning champion Boston Celtics.

"It will be a great game for us to see where we are at," Williams said. "We had a great win against L.A. and now we have another top-tier team."

Miles led the Jazz with 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting, while Paul Millsap added 18 and eight rebounds.

Memphis was led by O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay, who scored 18 points apiece.