NBA: Big Al Jefferson comes up just short against old team as Jazz beat Bobcats, 88-85
Charlotte, N.C. • With the game on the line, Kemba Walker dribbled past his defender, tossing up a shot that bounced off the glass and into the hands of a man Utah Jazz coach Ty Corbin knows all to well has a "touch inside [that] is really one of the best in the game."
Al Jefferson, who helped Utah to 132 wins during his three seasons in a Jazz uniform, tipped the rebound onto the lip of the rim and watched it roll back to him. He pushed off the ground again, only to fall short one more time.
Before the game, the likable big man with a big personality, had walked through his old locker room, exchanging jokes with his former teammates.
But on the court, as his protege Enes Kanter said, "there are no brothers."
"I was happy he missed them," Jazz forward Derrick Favors said after two Utah free throws pushed the lead to 3 and a pair of desperate game-tying attempts by the Bobcats had fallen short.
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The Jazz held on to a 88-85 win Saturday at Time Warner Cable Arena, the team's second victory in the first four contests of this five-game road trip.
Walker scored 20 points and Jefferson, playing his fourth game in five nights, scored seven of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. But his successors in Utah, along with a terrific bounce-back performance from Jazz point guard Trey Burke, who tied for a game high with 20 points, were enough to outlast a much-improved Charlotte team.
Jefferson started the game by missing his first three shots, but found his touch as the half wore on. He spun baseline on Kanter for a bucket. He caught the ball on the right elbow and scored on a fallaway jumper. Next he went at Favors, rolling to the middle of the key and hitting a right-hand hook and then showing his stroke on a long 2-pointer over the Jazz co-captain.
Utah trailed by as much as 11 points in the half, but a flurry of 3-pointers sparked an 11-4 run to close out the second quarter.
In the third quarter, Favors scored eight of his 14 points. Asked if any of his buckets in the game had been shaped by playing with Jefferson in the first three seasons of his career, Favors said yes.
"Every move I've made this season so far," he said.
Favors finished with nine rebounds and Kanter scored eight points and grabbed four boards. Their play is the reason Jefferson said he knew his time in Utah had come to an end last summer.
"I was giving [the Jazz] the first option," he said. "But in my heart I just knew it wouldn't make basketball sense to bring me or Paul [Millsap] back when you got Derrick Favors and Enes coming up, two young guys that are going to be great players."
"You gotta let them guys develop and get that experience," he added.
Coming off a disappointing 2-point night in a blowout loss Friday in Atlanta, the rookie point guard Burke showed a poise that belies his experience, coming up with big baskets and coolly sinking two free throws to help give the Jazz their eighth win of the year.
"Obviously we had an ugly game as a team last night," said Burke, who also had four assists and three rebounds. "I just wanted to come out here and bring that intensity and try to get a win."
With the Jazz double-teaming him, Jefferson's scoring was limited for much of the second half. But his fourth-quarter flourish put Charlotte back into the contest before his two put-back attempts fell short.
"Al is a tough matchup in the post and he is one of the best in the league in scoring close to the basket," Corbin said. "He is really creative and his footwork is impeccable. He was a great leader for our young guys. We miss him. We wish him well. We're happy to get this win."