Some would’ve never returned. Others would’ve stayed on the bench after they felt the second pull.
Al Jefferson? Back in the fight, running the court, recording game highs in points (30) and blocks (5) while grabbing a team-high 11 rebounds. All while twice suffering an abdominal strain in the Jazz’s 104-98 victory against the Golden State Warriors on Friday at EnergySolutions Arena.
Think Big Al doesn’t want it? Think the eight-year center doesn’t dream hard and often about a winning record, making the playoffs, and erasing six consecutive seasons of bad luck and worse endings?
Jefferson acknowledged the second abdominal pull produced "mad pain" after he went up for a rebound with 4:37 left in the third quarter. He briefly retreated to the locker room. He applied ice. He winced several times on the bench. But with Utah down 80-78 at the start of the final period and the Jazz badly in need of a win, Jefferson was back on the court.
"I’m the type of person, if I can go, I will go. … I told coach I was good," Jefferson said. "He [normally] take his time before he throw me back in there. [Friday], he throw me right back in that dogfight."
It was like Jefferson never left. He poured in seven points on 3-of-4 shooting and sucked up four boards, playing 11:46 as Utah outscored Golden State 26-18 in the fourth.
Big Al was bigger than the pain.
"That’s the kind of guy he is. He knows how important this game was and how important he is to us," said Jazz guard Devin Harris, who scored 11 points in the final period, teaming with Jefferson to send Utah on game-changing 18-6 and 6-0 runs.
Despite the strains, Jefferson’s shot was as smooth as ever. He destroyed Warriors rookie center Jeremy Tyler inside. Jefferson tried to be polite about his domination, but Paul Millsap jokingly interrupted an interview to remind Big Al he was 13 of 18 from the floor. And one of the biggest weapons in Jefferson’s arsenal — a feather-soft push shot he prefers to call a jump hook — was simply deadly.
Jefferson said this is the best he’s played in his career. He’s better than he was before he tore his ACL. His passing, ball-handling and defense have improved. And he fought off pain Friday to again show off the sweetest touch in the NBA.
"I’m 27-years-old. This is supposed to be your prime, and I think I’m headed that way. I’m getting better and better," Jefferson said.
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