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Jefferson hits it big again in Jersey

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Up until this season, Al Jefferson said, he never had much luck playing in Continental Airlines Arena. He can now call this horrible venue one of his favorite places.

Big Al erupted for a career-high 32 points yesterday in the Celtics' 96-88 overtime victory over the Nets.

Jefferson also had 18 rebounds and 2 blocks in 45 impact minutes. In the Celtics' 92-90 victory over the Nets Dec. 9, Jefferson had 29 points (his previous career high) and 14 rebounds, a game that Doc Rivers called "the birth of Al Jefferson."

Agreed Big Al, "I guess this year, I turned it around here."

While Paul Pierce and Delonte West made the big 3-pointers at the end yesterday, it was Jefferson who kept the Celtics from sinking into the Jersey swamps. At the half, he had 12 of the Celtics' 33 points; no one else had more than 6. After three, he had 18 points -- the only Celtic in double figures -- on 8-of-14 shooting. The rest of his mates accounted for 32 points on 10-of-57 shooting.

"Al was big. Every time we needed a basket, we seemed to find him," Rivers said. "It's really nice to have a big man."

Yesterday was Jefferson's 29th double-double of the season; in his previous two years in the NBA, he had eight.

Return in sight
New Jersey, which opens a tough six-game road trip tonight in Philadelphia, is expecting Richard Jefferson to return this week. Jefferson hasn't played since Jan. 20 and underwent right ankle surgery two days later. Yesterday was the 25th game he has missed this season and 19th in a row since the operation. Nets coach Lawrence Frank was noncommittal as to when Jefferson would return -- "his body and his play will tell us," Frank said -- but a good guess is next weekend in Texas (against the Rockets or Spurs) after he has had a chance to practice for two straight days . . . The Nets were without Antoine Wright, who has a sprained ligament in his right elbow . . . Vince Carter has started all 59 games and was the only player in the building yesterday who has not missed a game this season.

It's the little things
In close games like yesterday's, these things matter. After making a layup in the third quarter, Marcus Williams casually caught the ball and flipped it to referee Luis Grillo. Williams was quickly called for a delay-of-game violation, the second on the Nets, resulting in a technical. Brian Scalabrine made the freebie . . . Rivers on afternoon games: "I never liked them as a player. I love them as a coach." And why is that? "You get right to the game," he explained. "You don't have time to fret. As a player, you get into a ritual and [an afternoon game] upsets the norm." The Celtics also play this afternoon, at home, against Minnesota. Rivers said he couldn't recall the last time he was involved in back-to-back afternoon games.

Peter May can be reached at