SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Boston Celtics were finishing up a Western road trip, battling injury, change and an energized crowd excited to see the new-look Utah Jazz for the first time.
Through it all, they still had the ageless Ray Allen, whose 25 points and clutch 23-footer down the stretch helped Boston escape with a 107-102 victory Monday night.
“It’s a privilege to be able to play with a guy like that,” teammate Paul Pierce said of Allen, who led five players in double figures before the Celtics (43-15) return home from a 3-1 trip.
“You watch him down the stretch, and it’s something beautiful.”
The game itself, Pierce said, was downright ugly, with 26 combined turnovers, and double technicals called on Kevin Garnett and Al Jefferson with 3:12 remaining.
“We just found a way to win,” said Pierce, who added 21 points, including a late 3-pointer and pair of free throws. “It wasn’t the prettiest win. But we’ll take it.”
Rajon Rondo added 18 points for Boston, including a 15-foot jumper with 24.1 seconds remaining that sealed the win.
The loss spoiled the home debut of new Jazz players Devin Harris and Derrick Favors, who were acquired last week in the trade that sent All-Star point guard Deron Williams to New Jersey.
The Celtics made their own trade before the deadline last week, swapping centers with Oklahoma City (Kendrick Perkins for Nenad Krstic) and adding Jeff Green in place of Nate Robinson.
“You get over that,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of the changes. “I thought our guys did. They’ve kind of moved forward.”
Jazz fans, meanwhile, were excited about a new era that saw Utah bid farewell to Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan and leading scorer Williams in a span of 13 days.
They greeted Harris with open arms, chasing after him on Sunday as he visited a local outdoor mall, and giving him the loudest ovation of any Jazz player during pre-game introductions Monday.
“It’s been a long time since I played in front of a crowd like this and it was exciting,” said Harris, who finished with 19 points and flashed speed in transition that kept the Jazz close.
“I had a little butterflies before the game, it being the first home game but I thought we really fed off the crowd. They hit some big shots in that first quarter, kind of gave us a knockout blow, but we responded and the crowd helped us with that.”
The home fans also got their first close look at rookie Favors.
“Hey, D-Will, thanks for the Favors,” read one sign in the arena.
Favors added nine points, four rebounds and a block in 15 minutes.
The Jazz (32-30) jumped out to a 10-2 lead only to see the Celtics go on 12-0 and 13-0 runs and lead by as many as 13 in the first quarter.
Jefferson, playing against the team that drafted him in 2004, helped bring them back. He finished with 28 points and a season-high 19 rebounds for Utah, capping a February to remember in which he averaged nearly 24 points and 9 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field.
“He was a monster all night,” Harris said of Jefferson.
Pierce couldn’t argue.
“Al is developing into a helluva player,” Pierce said. “Pretty soon we’re going to see him in a lot of All-Star games.”
Jefferson might be happy to make the playoffs. Monday night at least had a playoff atmosphere.
“At one time, I didn’t know where we (were) — in Boston or Utah. There were a lot of Boston fans in the house,” Jefferson said. “But at the end of the game, I think they were all cheering for us.”
Players don’t like to accept moral victories, but the Jazz took something out of the loss.
“If we play the way we played tonight the next four, five games, we’re going to be OK,” Jefferson said of the Jazz, who entered the night just outside the Western Conference playoff picture.
Pierce felt the same way, even if the Jazz don’t have an All-Star player any more.
“They’ve got more than enough guys that are capable of getting the job done,” Pierce said.
The Jazz just can’t keep letting games slip away. They have dropped six straight at home — the team’s worst home skid since 1982 — and 16 of the last 21. They are 1-5 under new head coach Ty Corbin and 1-2 since the trade.
“The effort was there,” Corbin said. “We’ll continue to build, and the guys will turn the corner a bit. But we need a little something good to happen to feel good about ourselves right now.”
Notes: Jazz reserve C Mehmet Okur is to meet with doctors Tuesday to detemine if he can begin working out with the team again following a three-week break because of a lower-back problem. Even if he is cleared, Okur still would start slowly with shooting and running. … Celtics reserve G Delonte West was inactive with a sprained ankle and likely won’t return until Friday. … Asked how high Favors was on Utah’s draft board last year, Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor initially said no comment before adding, “But he was higher than (No.) 3.” … Harris stopped at Gateway Mall in downtown Salt Lake City on Sunday to celebrate his 28th birthday. “I had one guy actually park his car in the middle of the road and chase me down,” Harris said. “I was a little freaked out but it’s a good freaked out. It’s exciting.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)