Celtics use their tricks, trip up Jazz
SALT LAKE CITY — Kevin Garnett wormed his way into Al Jefferson’s head at a time when the Celtics needed an edge and the Jazz couldn’t afford to crack.
It started with a simple trick. With the Jazz trailing, 98-94, in last night’s game, Jefferson had Garnett posted, ready to go to work, and Garnett pulled the chair out from under Jefferson.
Then, the talking started.
Referee Joey Crawford issued warnings, double technicals, and more warnings. Garnett was face-to-face with Jefferson the entire time. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has a rule against fourth quarter technicals, but Garnett shouted at Rivers, saying, “I didn’t say anything.’’
He was still mouth-to-ear with Jefferson at that point, and Jefferson was the picture of frustration.
Play resumed, and Jefferson got the ball back in the post, and when a double-team from Garnett and Rajon Rondo came, he immediately traveled.
Up until that point, the Jazz had forced the Celtics into a breakneck back-and-forth that they wanted no part of after already drag racing with Golden State and going 0-to-60 with the Nuggets.
Garnett’s mind games were like an emergency brake in what ended up a 107-102 Celtics win over Utah.
“Even though Kevin got a technical, the next play he got a travel,’’ said Paul Pierce, who hit a 3-pointer that made it 101-96. “That was big. That’s what Kevin does. Defensively, he gets in guys’ heads. Al had it going, and that was a crucial possession.’’
Jefferson put up a 28-point, 19-rebound double-double, but he joined a list of frustrated Garnett opponents that includes An dray Blatche, Charlie Villanueva, Joakim Noah, Channing Frye, and even rookie Blake Griffin.
He tried to downplay it after the game.
“I don’t even want to talk about him, to be honest,’’ Jefferson. “I was just out there playing my game.’’
But he then added that he felt disrespected.
“Honestly, Kevin don’t bother me as far as his talking,’’ Jefferson said. “Everybody can go off and talk and yap at the mouth, but I’m not going to tolerate no one touching on me and pushing me. He just pushed me like I’m a coward, and I’m not a coward. Never have been.
“It’s a lot of things I can tolerate. I’ve been in this league long enough to know that he’s going to talk. He likes to hear himself talk. But he’s not going to touch me on a point like, ‘I’m going to punk you.’ You’re not going to do that to me. I’m a cool cat, and I don’t bother nobody. But he’s not going to touch me, and that’s just the bottom line.’’
Garnett helped the Celtics wrap up their four-game post-All-Star road trip 3-1, scoring 10 of his 16 points in the third quarter and grabbed 14 rebounds altogether, giving him his 20th double-double of the season. He hardly acknowledged his dust-up with Jefferson.
“It wasn’t nothing,’’ Garnett said.
Ray Allen helped cement it with 10 points in the fourth quarter. He drilled a 23-footer with 53.5 seconds left that put the Celtics ahead, 103-99. Jefferson had a chance to close the deficit to 1 point after nailing a hook shot and getting fouled, but he missed the free throw. Rondo then shoved the dagger in, drilling an open jumper from the left elbow that made it 105-101.
Allen led the way with 25 points, drilling five 3-pointers.
“He bailed us out, he really did,’’ Rivers said. “The one down the stretch on [Andre] Kirilenko, we completely blew the play, we got the ball to Ray and he made a shot for us.’’
Playing shorthanded yet again with Delonte West watching the game from the hotel after spraining his ankle the day before in shootaround, the Celtics needed all five starters to score in double figures. Pierce scored 21 points, going for 16 in the second quarter, when he went 9 for 9 from the free throw line.
Considering everything that happened on the trip — trading away Kendrick Perkins, Nate Robinson, Luke Harangody, and Semih Erden — getting the win was a nice way to end things.
“With all the stuff we have going on right now, the injury, the trades, I just appreciate this team,’’ Rivers said. “They just tend to find a way to win games and that has to bode well for us later when we get everybody together.’’
Gary Washburn of the Globe staff contributed to this report.