When Al Jefferson confronted Kevin Garnett in Salt Lake City last year, he won the numbers game but lost the mind game. Wednesday night, Garnett got the better of Jefferson on both counts as the Celtics took a 94-82 victory over Utah.
And, predictably, Garnett and Jefferson were called for double technical fouls.
“Just him being him,’’ Jefferson said of Garnett. “That’s all I’ve got to say about that.’’
Jefferson delivered a strongly worded defense after last year’s showdown with Garnett, following a 107-102 Jazz defeat. This time, Jefferson chose discretion.
“It’s always good coming back here,’’ Jefferson said. “It would be nice to get a win, finally, you know. I haven’t beaten them since I left. But it’s always good to come back. You know they are always going to play their best on their home floor. We put ourselves in a position to win and that’s all we can ask for.
“We got down 18 points but we fought back and, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.’’
Since the 2004-05 season, Jefferson has played on teams that seldom had a chance to win at TD Garden. Jefferson had one winning season with the Celtics and was involved in the trade with Minnesota that brought Garnett to the Celtics after the 2006-07 season.
Jefferson got off to a slow start in Wednesday’s game, going 1 of 8 from the field in the opening half. Jefferson finished with 18 points. But his final quarter was unproductive - a field goal with 1:02 to go and the double technical with 5:50 remaining.
Jefferson did not score until the final minute of the opening half. But he helped the Jazz rally with 14 points in the third quarter, his dunk cutting the deficit to 64-60 late in the quarter. But that would be Jefferson’s final meaningful points of the game.
The Jazz tied the score, 66-66, early in the fourth quarter but seemed to stagnate after that.
“Just Boston being Boston,’’ Jefferson said of the Celtics’ fourth-quarter performance. “They stepped up their defense, they hit big shots. And they’re a veteran team, they know how to play, they know how to win. We’re going to get to that point - keep playing hard, we’ll get to that point.
“They’re tough, they do all the right things, they’re consistent, they hardly ever make a mistake. You know, they just know how to play defense and they do it well.’’
Asked if the Jazz were running down at the end of a three-game road trip, which included a quadruple-overtime loss at Atlanta, Jefferson replied:
“Whatever it is it happened, we’re not going through anything no other team is going through, aside from the overtime game. At the end of the day, we had a chance to win the games we lost. We [need to] focus on games we got coming up, we’ve got a good chance.’’
Jefferson was a teenager when he joined the Celtics and was 22 when he was traded. Now, he is an eight-year veteran and team leader.
“We just basically got stops in there,’’ Jefferson said of the Utah rally. “We made them run, attacked them on the fast break, and were able to get into our offense.
“It took a lot of energy to do it. We should have started the game off like that. We started the game off pretty good but we kind of had a little meltdown in the second quarter. But we bounced back. All I ever ask, just put ourselves in a position to win the game, and that’s what we did. We tied it up, we let them know they are going to have to come and play.
“Unfortunately, they did. They stepped up and won the game.’’Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.