"I remember being in that zone many times before, but tonight it was all about the playoffs to me," Jefferson said after scoring 40 points in Utah's 107-100 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.
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"I just kept telling myself, talking to myself: We got to do it, start now, start with me, not only on the offense but on the defense, too. That's what I kept telling myself."
Jefferson tied a career high by scoring 40 for the first time since 2008. He broke his career mark with 19 field goals, the last coming on a clutch 14-footer with 39 seconds left that gave the Jazz a 101-98 lead.
Jefferson acknowledged he almost lost control of the ball, with the Timberwolves throwing a double-team at him and Ricky Rubio poking at the ball.
"I knew if I ever got control of it, there will have to be a shot," Jefferson said, knowing time was running out. "That's a shot that I'm real comfortable with on the move. I just let it go."
"Unbelievable," Jazz guard Randy Foye said of Jefferson's 19-of-27 shooting night. "There's only one word you can say. I know a lot of other guys are more dynamic at dunking the ball, but come on, man. If you want somebody to throw the ball into and get you a bucket, when he's double-teamed and can score on a double-team, there's nobody like Al."
Jefferson also had 13 rebounds and a season-high six assists.
It helped that Jefferson's teammates started knocking down outside shots.
Foye hit 2 of 3 in the fourth quarter and 5 of 7 overall to finish with 16 points for Utah.
"I hope I hit six every night," said Foye, who owns the Jazz franchise record for 3s in a season. "I want to be unconscious every night. I don't want there to be one night where I don't help my team."
Jefferson scored 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting in the third to turn a seven-point deficit into an 82-81 lead entering the fourth.
After Rubio's back-to-back 3-pointers gave Minnesota a 98-97 lead with 3:52 left, Jefferson followed with an 8-footer then the clutch mid-range jumper to win it.
It didn't help Minnesota that the injury-plagued Timberwolves were without starting center Nikola Pekovic because of left calf contusion. Greg Stiemsma started in his place, opened 1 of 5 and finished with 10 points.
"He made a lot of shots, but yes, he is physical," Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said of Jefferson. "All I had was Greg. We really had nobody else to guard him. Greg probably got a little tired, but Al made a lot of jump shots tonight, too. He faced up and knocked down shots."
The Jazz have two games left, and need to win out and hope the Lakers lose to either San Antonio or Dallas after their wild two-point win late Friday over Golden State. The Lakers said afterward that Kobe Bryant probably tore a tendon late in the game and would have an MRI on Saturday.
"The playoffs started a month ago for us," Jefferson said.
It continues Monday, against the same Minnesota team.
"Focus. Focus," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "They play well at home. They have great fans in Minnesota. They're really going to be hyped for this game. They know how important it is for us. So that's really going to motivate them to be spoilers, so we want to come in focused and ready to play."
This one was in Salt Lake City, where the Timberwolves have lost seven straight.
When Gordon Hayward's 33-footer banked in at the buzzer to give Utah a 30-22 lead after one, Utah looked well on its way to its 30th home victory.
But backup Barea, the smallest player on the court at 6-foot, came up big for the Timberwolves. He scored 12 straight for Minnesota to open the second quarter, starting with back-to-back 3-pointers and a driving layup that tied it at 32 with 10:03 left in the half. He finished with a season-high 23 points for Minnesota (29-50).
"He's good, a little feisty guy," Foye said. "He's strong. He's really smart and he's a good player. He's won a championship before so he knows what it takes."
That feistiness showed up late.
The Jazz led 97-90 on Jefferson's 8-footer, only to see Minnesota score five points on one possession. After a missed Jazz shot, Derrick Favors was called for a flagrant foul for shoving Barea out of his way and to the ground with 4:49 left. Barea sank both free throws, then Rubio hit a 3-pointer. Rubio hit another 3 on the next possession to give Minnesota a 98-97 lead with 3:52 remaining, setting the stage for Jefferson's heroics.
- Andrei Kirilenko, who helped guide the Jazz to six playoff appearances in 10 seasons before leaving as a free agent two years ago, acknowledged before the game he hopes the Jazz make it to the playoffs this season. "We know the situation the Jazz [are] in," Kirilenko said of battling the Lakers for the final spot. "It's not that we're going to come and try to help the Jazz. I can cheer for the Jazz but not against the Minnesota Timberwolves. We are going to try to do our best and try to beat Utah. Other than that I will cheer for them to be in the playoffs."
- A special ceremony is planned for Wednesday in Minnesota for Adelman's 1,000th victory.
- The Jazz had two days rest before Friday's game, while Minnesota was playing its third game in four nights. "And tomorrow will be our fourth game in [five] nights and the team we play [Phoenix] is there waiting for us," Adelman said. " I don't know, ask the schedule maker. It makes no sense to me. You can see it's going to happen once in a while, but for us it's happening all the time. It's the second time in four, five nights in the last 2 ½ weeks of the season. But it's what it is. You've got to go out and play. You can't worry about it. If we were in a playoff chase, it would be even more of a disadvantage."
- The Timberwolves shot 61.1 percent in the second quarter.