Alec Burks could have felt the weight of starting in place of the team’s wounded leading scorer. He could have been concerned about being shorthanded against a surging Denver Nuggets team.
But that would have been very un-Alec Burks.
“I just be myself,” he said.
Monday night, that was more than good enough.
Burks, starting in place of the injured Gordon Hayward for the second straight game, lit up the Nuggets for a career-high 34 points — his second time above the 30—mark this season - as the Jazz ended the Nuggets winning streak at five.
“He had a great night,” Jazz forward Marvin Williams said after the 118-103 victory. “Without him we wouldn’t have won this game. It’s not even close.”
Jazz coach Ty Corbin chuckled when asked about the confidence of Burks, the third-year guard out of Colorado: “He’s a confident young fellow, and rightfully so, because he’s a talented young man.”
In the locker room afterward, Burks was a man of few words when it came time for analysis.
“It was a great effort by everybody,” he said. “I happened to make some shots. It was a great game and we got the win.”
There were indeed solid performances down the line.
Trey Burke had 18 points and eight assists, despite turning his right ankle early in the game. Derrick Favors dropped in 19 points and ate up 15 rebounds.
The Nuggets, behind 23 points from Ty Lawson and a 21-point dunk fest from J.J. Hickson, made runs.
The Jazz had answers. Richard Jefferson spotted up in the corner and finished with 16 points. Enes Kanter reached double-digits for the fifth straight game off the bench.
But Burks above all was electric.
“He just won every individual matchup that we put on him,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “It started with Randy [Foye] and then down the line.”
Burks opened his scoring with an 18-foot jump shot, but the slashing guard from Colorado did most of his damage at the rim.
“I feel like every time I step on the court,” he said, “I’ve got to be aggressive because you never know.”
Burks hit all eight of free throws and went 13 of 19 from the floor, hitting on a series of acrobatic layups — shots that used to surprise his teammates.
“If you would have asked me that question this time last year I would have said yeah,” said Williams, who had 7 points and three rebounds despite dealing with flu-like symptoms. “ But I’m not [surprised] anymore. After seeing him make them in practice and in games, that’s what he does.”
With Hayward sidelined by a hip flexor injury, the Jazz were beaten up by a middling Cleveland Cavaliers team this week. Monday’s response could have hardly been better.
The Jazz set a new season high with 67 points in the first half.
Burks, whose previous career high came earlier this year against Miami, also had three rebounds and five assists.
“To grow up with these guys and watch them grow up has been huge,” Williams said. “Alec, everybody knows what he’s capable of doing scoring the basketball. He was a scorer in college. He’s always going to be a scorer. So when he gets his opportunity he definitely does take advantage of it.”
Storylines Jazz’s Burks perks up
R Alec Burks sets a career high with 34 points. His previous best (31) came earlier this season against the Miami Heat.
• Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward misses his second game in a row with a hip flexor injury.