"Because,” Clifford said, “he’s a good defender.”
The Bobcats' new coach, previously an assistant with the Lakers, Magic, Rockets and Knicks, said that is evident when you watch film of Jefferson.
“He’s got very good instincts and that’s where it starts,” Clifford said. “His pick-and-roll defense has been good. His team defense has been excellent."
“Coach Clifford came here with a defensive mindset,” Jefferson said. “I criticized my own defense and he said that I’m really not a bad defensive player. It just motivated me. In training camp, we just really worked hard to get that defense the way it is, and that’s what we rely on every night.”
Interestingly, it was his offense that needed help Monday. Jefferson only hit 8 of 23 shots, including those costly misses in the final minute.
Big Al did end the game by draining a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from 41 feet away. That was just the fourth long ball he’s hit in 10 seasons, but it only trimmed the final margin of defeat in half.
“In my opinion,” he said, “we should have won.”
Jefferson, now with his fourth NBA team, has sweeter memories in Utah.
Originally, he was thrilled to team up with Deron Williams after being traded from Minnesota before the 2010-11 season. Big Al excitedly envisioned getting to the All-Star game and the playoffs with D-Will, neither of which happened before Williams was shipped to New Jersey later that season.
You might think Jefferson’s last home game in Utah would’ve been his most memorable one. He did, after all, score 40 points and grab 13 rebounds to keep the Jazz in playoff contention in that April 12 contest, a 107-100 win against Minnesota last spring.
His favorite Jazz memory happened a year earlier when he returned after getting two stitches in a gash above his eye to score eight straight points late in the fourth quarter of a 100-88 win over Phoenix. The victory clinched a playoff berth.
"It's good to make people eat their words. That's what we did," Jefferson said that night, referring to people who doubted the Jazz's playoff chances that season. "Now it's time to go and shock the world."
The Jazz instead got shell-shocked and swept by the Spurs, but just qualifying for the playoffs in that lockout-shortened season exceeded outside expectations.
“Paul Millsap had a great night, kept us in it the whole time,” he recalled. “I just remember hitting the last eight points to kind of seal it. That was my second time ever going to the playoffs. That’s the game that just always stands out to me.”
The Jazz couldn’t make it back to the postseason last spring. General manager Dennis Lindsey then informed Jefferson’s camp that the organization was going a different direction when it didn’t bring back any of its veteran free agents in order to pave way for guys like Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
“I respected them because it just really didn’t make sense to bring me back. You’ve got to let them guys (Kanter and Favors) develop and get that experience,” Jefferson said. “I would have loved to come back. Once they told me that (I wasn’t), Charlotte was the next team that showed me a lot of interest and wanted me to be a part of their family.”
As Kanter let Jefferson know earlier this month with that fun letter before their first game and fans showed him Monday, he’s still considered part of the Jazz family.
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