Maybe the moment could not match Derrick Fisher’s checking into a Jazz playoff game, barely pausing near the team bench after arriving at the arena in the third quarter, having attended to his infant daughter’s cancer treatment in New York that day.
Al Jefferson merely walked back to the court from the locker room after receiving a couple of stitches above his left eye in the third quarter Tuesday night. Just the same, a cool scene unfolded when Derrick Favors’ foul trouble forced a substitution. Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin initially sent Enes Kanter to the scorer’s table. Then, glimpsing Jefferson, Corbin switched. The crowd erupted.
“I was ready,” Jefferson said, smiling as he recounted his “five-minute-break” lying on a trainer’s table in the locker room.
After coming back with 3 minutes, 15 seconds left in the third quarter — almost the exact time of Fisher’s return in that 2007 playoff game against Golden State — Jefferson proceeded to play all but the final 20 seconds of the Jazz’s 100-88 win over Phoenix. He delivered eight points and eight rebounds in the fourth quarter, powering the Jazz into the NBA playoffs.
Nobody can be sure about Jefferson’s future with the Jazz. The team owes him $15 million in 2012-13, the final season of his contract. So how much this upcoming playoff experience truly will benefit the team, considering that Jefferson may not be here much longer, is a valid question.
But all of that stuff became easy to forget in the wake of the clinching. The Jazz’s postseason bid clearly means everything to Jefferson, and he’s responsible for making it happen. So why spoil his moment with worries about what’s ahead for him in Utah?
As of Wednesday morning, he was promising to give himself “all day” to enjoy the achievement, before preparing for the playoffs. That’s the minimum amount of satisfaction he deserves.
“It’s a wonderful feeling … to go against all odds to do something that nobody [thought] that I could do or this team could ever do,” he said. “Everybody knows what I’ve been through these past seven years.”
Basically, that’s a lot of losing — in Boston, Minnesota and Utah.
As a rookie in 2005, having been drafted out of high school in Mississippi, Jefferson averaged 6.7 points for a Celtics team that lost to No. 6 seed Indiana in seven games of a first-round series. This is far different. The Jazz needed the 19.4 points, 9.7 rebounds and everything else Jefferson could give them in their return to the playoffs.
That was never more true than Tuesday, when Jefferson kept coming through as the Jazz took control late in the game.
Compared with Jefferson’s contributionin Boston’s playoff appearance, “This is more on him, because he has a larger role in getting there, so it’s a great accomplishment for him,” Corbin said.
The bandage remained in place above Jefferson’s eye Wednesday. His playoffs-induced glow also was intact, with only this qualifier: Jefferson was thinking about his grandmother. Gladys Jefferson, his biggest influence and No. 1 fan, died in March.
Jefferson’s playoff pursuit was “a long road, man,” he said. “I really wish that my grandmother was here to see it. … She’s seen all the struggles I went through, the losing and all that. I finally made it back to the playoffs. I know she’s seeing it, but I wish she could have just been here to experience it with me. That would be wonderful.”