BOSTON – The Boston Celtics like to have a lot of veterans for this very reason.
With point guard Rajon Rondo on the bench after injuring his right ankle, Leandro Barbosa sparked a third-quarter run and ran the offense in the fourth Wednesday night as the Celtics held off the Utah Jazz, 98-93.
“That’s what we brought him in here for,” said Paul Pierce, who led the way with 23 points for Boston, including a pair of free throws with 19.5 seconds to play.
Reserves Jeff Green and Barbosa each scored 16 points for the Celtics, who won for the fifth time in six games. Kevin Garnett added 11 points and eight rebounds.
“That shows we are deep and we can have guys that can step up,” backup center Chris Wilcox said. “Tonight we had it down the stretch.”
Rondo left for good in the third quarter with the ankle injury after getting 10 assists, reaching double-digits for the 32nd straight game.
With Rondo sitting on the bench for the final quarter, Green and Barbosa each played the entire 12 minutes, with Green scoring seven points.
“Barbosa was terrific,” Boston Coach Doc Rivers said. “I mean, he bailed us out.”
Rivers said he “had no idea” if Rondo would play Thursday night at Brooklyn.
When Avery Bradley returns from offseason shoulder surgeries, Barbosa will be in a mix of five guards with Rondo, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee.
Paul Millsap led the Jazz with 20 points and 12 boards. Al Jefferson had 13 points and 14 rebounds.
“Tonight we proved that we can fight. Thats the difference between the Celtics and us right now. They know how to seal the game,” Jefferson said. “That’s what we’ve got to get to. Playing these type of teams, it’s going to help us get there. Now we know what to do. So we just need to go and try and take care of these next two games on the road.”
Mo Williams missed three shots in the closing minute for Utah, which was coming off a triple-overtime win Monday at Toronto but fell to 1-5 on the road.
The Celtics took a 94-93 edge when Garnett hit the second of two free throws with 1:08 left. After Williams missed a long jumper and Gordon Hayward the follow, Garnett missed a jumper and Jefferson grabbed the rebound.
The Jazz called a timeout with 33 seconds remaining and Williams missed on a left-handed scoop with 22 seconds to go.
“He made a good drive and took it to the basket, but lost his balance a little bit and tried to push it there at the end,” Jazz Coach Tyrone Corbin said.
The Jazz then fouled Pierce and he nailed both free throws, increasing the lead to three.
Millsap then missed a drive, but Boston’s Green was called for traveling after grabbing the rebound, giving the Jazz one last shot. Williams missed another long jumper.
Garnett sealed it with two free throws.
Boston led 93-88 after Green’s three-point play with 3:40 left, but Jefferson scored the next five points, tying it on a jumper with 1:21 to play.
Garnett’s no-look, behind-the-back pass set up Barbosa for an easy layup midway into the final quarter, giving Boston an 80-74 lead. The teams then traded baskets before Green drove the lane for a dunk over Jefferson. Green was given a technical for taunting him on the play.