Utah Jazz: Al Jefferson thrived in Minnesota homecoming

Published: Thursday, Dec. 23 2010 11:00 p.m. MST

Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson, left, greets former teammate Kevin Love on Wednesday.

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — They might be happy to see Al Jefferson in the summer if he returns to visit and go fishing at some of the state's 10,000 lakes.

But Big Al might not be so welcome when he next returns to Minnesota sporting a Utah Jazz uniform.

At the same time, his new fan base and teammates only hope to see more of performances like the one Jefferson had in the second half while leading the Jazz to a stirring 112-107 comeback win over his old squad.

"Al became a focal point down at the end of the ballgame and we couldn't stop him from scoring down there," Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis said. "We made some mistakes with Al."

Topping that list was trying to guard him with a less-than-healthy Darko Milicic.

Another faux-pas might've been allowing the fans to make him feel at home with a big ovation early on.

It took a while, but Jefferson, grateful for the warm greeting, finally kicked his feet up on the sofa and helped himself in the pantry in the second half when he scored 21 of his 23 points.

Jefferson was particularly potent in the fourth quarter after the Jazz found themselves trailing the T-Wolves by a dozen to begin the period.

The 6-foot-10 big man hit 5-of-6 shots in the final period and scored 12 points to help spoil a fun night for the home crowd at the Target Center. It was the sixth time he's scored at least 23 points for Utah, and the 17th time he's pulled in at least nine rebounds.

"Al down the fourth quarter, down the stretch, just carried us," said Jazz point guard Deron Williams, who did some heavy lifting of his own with 25 points. "(He) hit some big shots for us."

Jefferson didn't do that in the first half, when he only scored two points while missing 4-of-5 field goals and both free-throw attempts.

Jefferson said the difference from the first half to the second half was that he simply settled down. He didn't think he'd be nervous to return to the spot where he spent three seasons and averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds, but nerves — or something — seemed to get the best of him.

"Whatever it was, I got it out of me," Jefferson said. "A good friend of mine told me, 'Relax.' And that's what I did. I relaxed, and I just played my game and had a better half."

An old friend from Minnesota or a new one from the Beehive State?

"From Utah," he said, smiling. "I'm pretty sure nobody from Minnesota's going to tell me to relax."

That might not have been the word Jazz coach Jerry Sloan would have used with Jefferson. He preferred when his center used his interior moves to make Minnesota pay, instead of relying on his outside touch.

"He got the ball inside where he could do something with it," Sloan said. "The first half he was shooting jump shots (from) 17, 18 feet."

It's perhaps surprising one of his former teammates didn't tell Jefferson to relax and chill out in one aspect. He blocked seven of the Timberwolves' shots, including five second-half swats.

It almost seemed like he knew what the T-Wolves were doing while recording a career-high for blocks. Imagine that.

"I got lucky, I guess," Jefferson said, smiling again.

Big Al admitted that he really did catch a break on one of his blocks, though.

Though Jefferson didn't trade trash-talk with his Minnesota friends, he said Kevin Love, his teammate for two years, told him he fouled him on one particular rejection.

Jefferson flashed a cat-with-a-canary-in-his-mouth grin.

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