SALT LAKE CITY — Big Al Jefferson put together another solid all-around performance in Utah's 85-73 victory over Milwaukee on Tuesday night, as the 6-foot-10 center finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and a couple of blocked shots.
But instead of pounding his chest for a job well done, the Jazz big man was quick to give credit for the victory to another of his front-line teammates, Derrick Favors.
"Derrick Favors was the one who set the tone in the first half with those blocked shots — I think he had like five in like three minutes," Jefferson said with admiration. "He set the tone and everybody started getting active. That's what we've got do to win games, at home or on the road.
"For a young player 20 years old, his offensive game wasn't there tonight but he didn't let that stop him on the defensive end. You don't see that too much from a young player; I mean, you didn't see it from me when I was his age. He set the tone for us tonight on the defensive end, and if he does it we've all got to do it."
Jefferson, who's now averaging 18.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, has always been known much more for his offensive prowess than his defense.
"My teammates trust me to get the ball into me," he said, "and they kept going to me down there and I've just got to perform."
And on Tuesday night, Jefferson and the Jazz certainly benefited from the absence of Bucks big man Andrew Bogut, the former University of Utah star missed the game for undisclosed personal reasons.
"I hope everything is good with whatever his personal reasons was," Jefferson said, "but he's a great player, man, he's a great offensive player and a great defensive player. And I just looked at it like hey, thank God."
In the first half alone, Jefferson scored 19 points, hitting 8-of-11 shots from the floor and all three of his free throws, and he also pulled down five rebounds and blocked a shot. He combined with Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap to account for 32 of Utah's 43 first-half points.
After a relatively quiet third quarter, Jefferson took a short break on the bench and then returned with 10:34 remaining to play. He immediately made his presence felt on both ends of the court, getting to the foul line just seconds after re-entering the game.
"I think finally I'm getting into game shape," Jefferson said, "and I just wanted to be more active with my hands … because we was going down there and getting charges and rushing the offense, but we kept getting stops on defense and I think that's what put us over the edge.
"We said it from Day 1 — defense is going to win games. ... When it gets bad on the offensive end, we still play real hard on the defensive end. If our offense isn't good, we can still play defense that night."
And play defense they did.
The Jazz limited Milwaukee to just 30.5 percent shooting (29-of-95) from the field, and the Bucks were an icy 2-of-21 (9.5 percent) from 3-point range. Favors' shot-swatting performance paved the way as Utah blocked a dozen of the Bucks' shots, helping the Jazz (3-3) overcome 24 turnovers to notch their third straight home-court win.
Jefferson wound up grabbing five rebounds in the fourth period alone, and he also swiped a pair of steals and blocked a shot down the stretch to help Utah turn back the Bucks' comeback bid.
"Al's done a great job," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "He's a tough guy to guard on the post, and he gets great low-post position and we feel very comfortable when he gets the ball in the low post. And he did a decent job tonight making the right plays. He can pass some but he's a tough cover.
"And the thing I'm most pleased with him is on the defensive end — he's really trying to do the right thing, communicate with his teammates, and he's getting up on pick-and-roll stuff and trying to retreat after the pass is made. He's been a lot better this year."