Devin Harris said it, then he immediately wanted to take it back.
The Jazz point guard had just offered big-time praise for Al Jefferson.
The guy sitting a few lockers down from Harris? He'd dropped in a team-high 28 points, tied a career high with 26 rebounds, played a game-high 54:04, and carried Utah to what could become a season-defining 123-121 triple-overtime win against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday.
But what stood out to Harris more than the huge numbers was Jefferson's super-soft touch. Big Al has spent eight seasons in the NBA. At 27, he's clearly entering his prime. The 28 and 26 didn't impress Harris, though, as much as Jefferson's shooting finesse. How many centers in the league can alternate old-school pump fakes and spin-and-turn post moves with smooth 18-foot jumpers? Few. How many shoot with Jefferson's feather-soft stroke from inside and outside, with the shot often looking true as soon as it leaves their hands? None.
"Let's not talk about it, though, because I don't want him thinking [he's that good]," Harris joked. "He made some big shots tonight and he shoots the ball well. Hopefully he can continue to do that. But we'll keep that between us."
Even Jefferson played down his big night. He wanted to talk more about his team than himself. And the impact of 28-26 had yet to him while he scrolled through text messages and answered more questions about Utah's impressive, resilient fight.
"We're a team that, if you look back, we never had anything gave to us," Jefferson said. "We all had to work to prove ourselves to stay in this league. From Paul [Millsap] — that's going to be a hell of a story 20 years from now to write about. My man DeMarre [Carroll]. To be a part of this; to show that, not only do we deserve to be here, but we can play with the best of them, that's what we're doing. We're putting ourselves in position to win games right now."
Jefferson said recent tough losses to Sacramento and Phoenix, in addition to disappointing defeats to New Orleans and Memphis, put Utah in a rough position heading into the final stretch of its up-and-down season. Even after beating Dallas, the Jazz are still in 10th place in the Western Conference with just four games to go. Jefferson understands exactly where Utah's at and what it still must accomplish. He hasn't played for a winning team since his rookie year. To keep the Jazz moving forward — and give Jefferson his first playoff berth since 2004-05 with Boston — Big Al said he plans to leave everything on the court during Utah's next four games.
"Honestly, I don't know if we was home and the crowd gave us energy — I didn't get tired like I did in Atlanta," said Jefferson, referring to Utah's quadruple-overtime road loss to the Hawks on March 25. "I was catching it that third and fourth overtime in Atlanta. But tonight I could've played another. … I could've played two more if I had to. I was that focused."
Gordon Hayward on the Jazz's heart: Yeah, man. We've got a lot of heart on this team. We showed it again tonight. We needed this one desperately. We played like it out there. We fought. We competed. We made our mistakes. But we battled through them and, instead, we get the win.
Everyone contributing in a key game: We obviously made our mistakes. But we just battled through it and didn't let that affect us. You've got to give them some credit. They hit some, I mean, ridiculous shots. Every guy, all five of 'em out there. You try and stay on Dirk [Nowitzki] and [Vince] Carter hits 3s, [Jason] Terry hits 3s. Jason Kidd hit some tough shots. Then Delonte comes in and he hits a big 3, too. They're a veteran squad with guys who can make plays, but it's great that we were able to come out on top.
One of the best games he's been involved in: Yeah, it was fun. Especially because we won. That immediately puts it up at the top, just because of the win. The way we battled, the way we fought, I think it just shows that we've got a lot of heart.
Jefferson stepping up: He is [very impressive]. He hit some big-time shots there. The two down the stretch when we were kind of struggling to score. Big Al is a great player and good players make great plays, big players make big players. The most impressive thing is his rebounding and stuff; a couple big blocks down at the end, too. We need that every night.
Brian T. Smith
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