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 as the Celtics held off the Utah Jazz 98-93 on Wednesday night.
“That’s what we brought him in here for,” said Boston captain Paul Pierce, who led the way with 23 points, including a pair of key 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 the game 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 in Brooklyn.
When Avery Bradley returns from offseason shoulder surgeries, Barbosa will be in a mix of five guards along 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 at Toronto on Monday but fell to 1-5 on the road.
The Celtics grabbed 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 on an attempted put-back, Garnett missed a jumper and Jefferson grabbed the rebound.
The Jazz called timeout with 33 seconds remaining and Williams missed on a left-handed scoop shot 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 points.
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 from the right wing 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, bringing most of the crowd to its feet. He was given a technical, though, for taunting him on the play.
But despite the highlight baskets, the Jazz stayed close, narrowing it to 88-86 on Jefferson’s layup with 4½ minutes to play.
Rondo came up limping on a drive to the basket with 4:55 in the third, left the game and headed to the locker room about a minute later. He returned to the bench to loud cheers from the crowd with under a minute left in the third. The Celtics announced that he “rolled” his right ankle.
Pierce missed 10 of his initial 13 shots before hitting three straight 3s in a 1:17 span midway into the third quarter, with Rondo getting assists eight, nine and 10 on the baskets. Pierce scored 15 in the quarter on 5-of-9 shooting and Hayward scored 10 for Utah.
After Pierce’s long-range shooting exhibit, Barbosa drove to the basket and scored six of the points in Boston’s 8-0 run that gave the Celtics a 68-60 edge.
The Jazz then scored 10 of the final 15 points in the quarter, closing it to 73-70 at the break.
NOTES: Utah G Earl Watson, close to completing a six-month comeback from knee surgery, rejoined the team, but wasn’t in uniform. “We’ll see how he goes and how his body responds,” Corbin said. “We’re going to increase his activity a little bit and see how he responds to it.” … Jefferson, part of a deal that brought Garnett to the Celtics from Minnesota on July 31, 2003, received lofty pregame praise from Rivers. “He just keeps getting better and better,” Rivers said. “The one thing I never thought I’d say about Al is: he’s just becoming a better passer.” … The Celtics’ next home game is a rare Saturday afternoon home contest against Toronto at 12:30. They face the Nets first, though, on Thursday. … The Jazz play the third of a four-game road trip Friday at Philadelphia. … Jefferson received a nice ovation in pregame introductions.