BOSTON — This is what $41 million over three years buys:
Wednesday it purchased 22 points and 11 rebounds. And three assists and six trips to the foul line. And a put-back of a Kemba Walker miss with 17.7 seconds left by center Al Jefferson that pretty much settled the Charlotte Bobcats’ 89-83 victory against the Boston Celtics.
Jefferson, the Bobcats’ high-cost/high-profile free-agent acquisition, finally looked like himself after weeks of on-again, off-again ankle problems. He was winded after this game but elated.
Why? Because since leaving the Celtics, the team that drafted him, following the 2006-07 season, Jefferson never beat the Celtics in stops with Minnesota and Utah.
“Don’t tell me how many years it’s been – you’ll make me feel old,” Jefferson joked postgame.
Then he admitted, “I’m tired, man – I’ve got to get my (butt) in shape!”
But even in his current condition, he made a huge difference on a night when the Bobcats (4-4) won despite shooting 37 percent from the field.
Winning on the road is often about setting a tempo in the first quarter. Jefferson did just that by hitting three of his first four shots for eight points. The first-half lead grew as high as 16 before some brutal second-half shooting (31 percent) kept this one close down the stretch.
Bobcats coach Steve Clifford knew he was getting something good when the franchise signed Jefferson in July. Clifford likes the move more now than he did then.
“He’s a clinic in the low post – balance, footwork and touch,” Clifford said. “And his defense is better than he’s been given credit for.”
Just as important, the Bobcats are starting to figure how to use him. Jefferson said the “connection” between him and his teammates was dramatically better Wednesday than it was in Monday’s home loss to the Atlanta Hawks, his first game back from a five-game injury absence.
“Our spacing was a lot better today around him, and we’re beginning to find him in the right spots,” Bobcats shooting guard Gerald Henderson said. “He’s obviously really good when we put him in position to do what he did tonight.”
They needed everything Jefferson could provide because the backcourt of Henderson and Walker shot brutally: Henderson was 5-of-14 from the field (though he hit both free throws off Boston’s intentional foul with 11 seconds left). Walker was 1-of-13.
Walker’s shooting in the four games since hurting his left shoulder in a road victory against the New York Knicks is 14-of-59 (23.7 percent).
“He hasn’t shot the ball well (since the injury), but he says he does what he has to do (in terms of treatment) to play,” said Clifford of Walker.
This Bobcats do two things consistently well: play half-court defense (the Celtics shot 38 percent) and get to the foul line (30 free throws Wednesday). Add Jefferson in the low post to that formula and they just might have something.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell