Jefferson was a tough matchup for Boston's inside players, scoring 22 points and grabbing 11 rebounds to lead the Bobcats to an 89-83 win Wednesday night that snapped the Celtics' four-game winning streak.
In his second game back after missing five straight with a bruised right ankle, Boston's 2004 first-round pick helped Charlotte hold off a few late charges by the Celtics.
Jefferson, who was taken 15th overall by the Celtics and played three seasons in Boston, was part of the deal in the summer of 2007 that brought Kevin Garnett to the Celtics from Minnesota.
"He's an elite low-post scorer and he's a much, much better defender than I had realized," Bobcats first-year coach Steve Clifford said of Jefferson. "But the thing that's coming through now as you watch him is his competitiveness. He badly wants to win."
Jefferson said it was the first time he's been on a team that beat the Celtics.
"A long time coming," he said. "Been so close many times."
Jefferson feels like he's just getting his game back after being sidelined.
"I still missed a lot of shots I normally would make," he said of his 8-for-17 shooting. "I've got to get in better shape. I know there's a reason that I'm not in top shape. That's the only bad thing about getting hurt in the beginning of the year."
"We made some runs, but I never felt like that game -- you sit over there and I've been through not a lot of NBA games, but a lot of basketball games, and there are certain games where you feel like the other team has got you in a little bit of a stranglehold," Boston first-year coach Brad Stevens said. "That's the way it was. They had their way for most of the night."
Both teams were without key big men. Celtics forward Jared Sullinger was out with a bruised right knee and Bobcats forward Josh McRoberts missed the game for personal reasons. He's expected to play Friday when Charlotte is at Cleveland.
It was Clifford's second game back after having two stents placed in his heart last week.
One of the biggest ovations of the night came when free-agent first baseman Mike Napoli, a member of the 2013 World Series champion Red Sox, was shown on the Jumbotron in the opening quarter. He was seated at courtside, left at halftime and returned late in the third quarter to another nice hand from the fans seated nearby.
The Bobcats led 71-64 after three quarters. Boston twice closed it to three midway into the fourth before Tolliver nailed a shot-clock beating 3 with 5:37 to play.
Neither team scored for the next 2 minutes before Jefferson's short jumper pushed the Bobcats ahead by six with 2:36 left.
Green then converted a three-point play, getting Boston within 85-80 with 1:26 to go, but the Celtics struggled to score after missing 12 of their first 16 shots in the final quarter.
Crawford's three-point play closed it to 85-83 with 32.5 seconds left, but Jefferson had a putback off Kemba Walker's miss to seal it.
But Crawford felt like the Bobcats just played harder for most of the night.
"They beat us with effort. They beat us to all the loose balls and rebounds," he said. "It's not really (a game) to throw away. It's one to look at to see where we can get better. We just started off slow and couldn't get any loose balls."
Charlotte led 51-43 at halftime.
The start of the third quarter was filled with whistles and sloppy play, taking away any energy from the crowd.
Boston narrowed its deficit to 67-64 late in the third before the Bobcats scored the final four points.
In the fourth quarter, Napoli was selected as the "fan of the game," getting another loud ovation.
The Bobcats opened the second quarter with a 12-2 run, pulling ahead 39-23 on Taylor's two free throws 4 minutes into the period.
After shooting over 60 percent in the first quarter (61.1), Charlotte made just 28 percent (7 of 25) in the second.
Stevens said Sullinger is day-to-day. He had an MRI on Tuesday. The former Butler coach said he watched "very little" of the college doubleheader Tuesday night that featured some of the top players in the country when four of the top five of the AP's Top 25 were in action. ... Tolliver started in place of McRoberts and hit two 3s in the opening quarter. ... Napoli said, "No, not yet" when asked if he's heard from the Red Sox about a contract offer while he was seated and signing autographs during a timeout in the third quarter.