SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The Boston Celtics had the most wins in the Eastern Conference, 26 regular season games still to go and absolutely no reason to take any chances with Kevin Garnett's health.
The All-Star forward strained his right knee late in the first half of a game at Utah on Thursday night and did not return. The Jazz rallied to beat the Celtics 90-85 and Boston coach Doc Rivers said afterward that the decision to rest Garnett was an easy one.
"I'd rather see what we can do without him these (next) couple of games, try to get him healthy and then go from there," Rivers said.
Garnett released a statement, saying he would have the knee re-examined on Friday and get an idea of when he could return. Boston doesn't play again until Sunday, but Rivers said the Celtics would rather have Garnett healthy for the playoffs as they defend the NBA title.
Garnett hurt himself while going up for an alley-oop late in the first half. He landed gingerly and motioned immediately to the bench for a substitute. He warmed up with his teammates before the second half, but the Celtics didn't want to risk anything over a regular season game in February.
The Celtics could have used him, too, as Utah outscored Boston 30-19 to pull out the victory. The Celtics led by 11 in the third quarter, but couldn't hold off the Jazz at the end.
"They put a body on you. They knock you around," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said of the defending NBA champion. "Our guys, sometimes we want to play in a tuxedo. And when you're playing against those guys, you better get it off and get ready to get nasty."
The Jazz did just that.
Utah was 12-for-17 from the floor in the final period, closing the game on an 8-2 run. The Celtics hurt themselves with 19 turnovers and were 19-for-29 from the foul line.
"It really came down to free throws by us and turnovers," Rivers said. "We make our free throws, we win the game. And we if we don't turn the ball over, we win the game."
Deron Williams had 18 points and 10 assists, Mehmet Okur scored 19 and Matt Harpring added eight points off the bench, including a tie-breaking jumper with 1:01 left to play that put Utah up for good.
"We battled with them all night. It's a great win for our team," Williams said.
Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 20 points, but was pestered down the stretch by Harpring's defense. Harpring drew an offensive foul on the Celtics' star and helped hold him to 2-of-9 shooting in the fourth quarter.
"I love doing that. This is why you play the game of basketball — for times like this," Harpring said.
Rajon Rondo added 15 points and seven assists for Boston, which pulled away in the third quarter despite early foul trouble.
Brian Scalabrine started for Garnett in the third quarter and got four fouls in the first 3:30 of the period. Williams drew the third when he drove the lane and Scalabrine unsuccessfully tried to get a charge call. Williams made both free throws to get the Jazz within 49-47, but the Celtics responded by scoring the next eight points.
The Jazz got within three or four points several times, but couldn't catch the Celtics until midway through the fourth quarter. Paul Millsap tied it at 76 when he got Kendrick Perkins to bite on a fake and come down on Millsap as he was taking a jumper that banked in off the glass with 5:44 left in the game, then made the free throw to convert the three-point play.
Neither team led by more than three until the Jazz pulled away at the end. Harpring hit a 15-foot jumper to put Utah up 85-83 with 1:01 left, then he pulled down the rebound after Ray Allen missed on a layup. Williams added a jumper from the top of the key to put the Jazz up by four and Utah held on the rest of the way.
This program aired on February 20, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.