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Derrick Favors is a difference-maker, rusty or not.
Favors returned from a hip injury and set the tone early on his way to 20 points to help the Utah Jazz beat the Boston Celtics 110-98 on Monday night.
"I felt rusty to tell you the truth but it felt good to be back out there. I made a lot of open shots and I think I did a good job defensively to help my team win," Favors said.
Utah coach Ty Corbin was glad to see Favors back on the court.
"He does so many good things for us on the defensive end, it really makes it easy for the other guys," said Corbin, whose team is 0-9 without his star center.
In the games Favors has missed, it's easy to see the Jazz struggle to defend. Even the soft-spoken big man can see the void when he's on the sidelines.
"They are a step slow on the defensive end. Usually I'm the only guy who helps out when guys make mistakes. I'm the guy who bails them out," Favors said.
On the offensive end, Alec Burks is the guy who bails out the Jazz when the play breaks down or the shot clock nears zero. Burks scored 21 points and his instant offense helped keep the Celtics at bay but he knows Utah's limited success this season is keyed by defense.
"Having that defensive anchor, that man-child down there helps us a lot," Burks said. "When we see he is also confident in his shot, it makes the whole team confident."
Marvin Williams added 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting to help the Jazz break a three-game losing streak and end a six-game skid to the Celtics.
Favors established himself early with four baskets in the opening quarter and bolstered Utah's leaky defense in the middle.
Jeff Green and Kelly Olynyk each had 21 points for Boston, which dropped all four games on its road trip and extended its losing streak to five.
The Jazz shot 55 percent and led by as many 18 points as six players scored in double figures and featured quick ball movement against the weary Celtics.
"We couldn't break their rhythm," Green said. "They kept going to the same thing, making us work. They got good looks and were making shots."
Favors had three blocked shots and Jeremy Evans had a career-high four but the Celtics made 20 of 21 free throws to stay in the game.
Despite a strong game from Rajon Rondo, who had 18 points and 10 assists, the Celtics dropped to 4-22 against teams from the Western Conference and 0-13 on the road. Boston has dropped 18 consecutive road games versus Western Conference opponents since a 110-107 overtime win over Utah last Feb. 25.
Burks, who is averaging more than 20 points in a reserve role over the last six games, helped the Jazz finally shake the Celtics' mastery over Utah. No current member of the Jazz roster was on the team was on the team when Utah last defeated Boston, 110-97 on March 10, 2010.
"We're maturing as a team and I'm maturing as a player. I'm playing my game. I know my role," Burks said.
The Celtics, who shot less than 40 percent on the road trip, missed regular starters Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley as the Boston offense broke down early and often. Sullinger is following the league's protocol after suffering a mild concussion Friday, while Bradley has missed 12 of 15 games with an ankle injury.
"We're just trying to keep our heads up, keep working. We're banged up," Olynyk said.
Rondo passed to Kris Humphries for a jumper and then made one of his own to pull the Celtics to 59-50 to begin the second half. But Williams and Richard Jefferson countered with baskets and the Celtics couldn't again trim the lead to single digits until Jerryd Bayless made a layup to make it 103-94 with 3:18 to play.
The Jazz clinched the game with a three-point play by Favors and Williams' fast-break layup with 1:08 to play.
The starting lineup of Richard Jefferson, Williams, Favors, Gordon Hayward (10 assists) and Trey Burke improved to 17-9 on the year. All other lineups are 3-33 for Utah.