Richard Jefferson leapt into the air, arms extended in joy. Marvin Williams pointed skyward. The rookie hardly even smiled.
Trey Burke had just sunk a 3-pointer — a high-arcing shot that even after multiple replays looks sure to be blocked — to beat the Orlando Magic on Saturday, ending the Utah Jazz’s six-game losing streak. Big moments haven’t come around often in Utah’s 23-win season, but when they have, Burke has been at the center of many of them.
“He doesn’t seem to mind the big moments and embrace those times when you need something big to happen. He’s not afraid,” Jazz coach Ty Corbin said Sunday morning, as he reflected on the shot.
It’s hard to say what makes one player thrive in the clutch, but early in his career Burke has shown he has it. On the season, Burke is shooting 38 percent from the floor and 35 percent from 3. But in the last five minutes of games within five points, Burke has found an extra gear. He’s taken — and made — more than any other Jazz player in those situations, connecting on 53 percent of those attempts, including 57.9 percent from 3.
For Burke, it’s a quality he’s possessed since childhood. Benji Burke took his 12-year-old son to San Diego for a camp that featured some of the country’s best middle-school talent. He remembers seeing future NBA players Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Austin Rivers and Shane Larkin. But that the younger Burke was not ranked among the camp’s best bothered them both, fueling Trey.
“As dads, we now realize how dumb it was,” Benji Burke said. “But we were just chasing it. Every day, Trey would work out and he always just had a mean streak to him.”
Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, Burke spent his free moments going one-on-one with his best friend Jared Sullinger, now a forward with the Boston Celtics. They’d put themselves in imaginary late-game situations. “Down three with 10 seconds,” Burke said. “If you were down you had to find a way to come back and win.”
On the court, he lived out those fantasies.
“When we needed a big shot, Trey took it,” Sullinger, Burke’s high school and AAU teammate, said last month. “Some places we’d play would have the volleyball lines on the court. Trey would literally take a shot from the volleyball line and make it. He’s been taking big shots since he was a little kid. It’s in his veins.”
In Burke’s senior year of high school, his Northland High team trailed the top-ranked team from Cincinnati by a point with under 10 seconds to play.
“Everybody knew what was going to happen,” his father said. “He put a move on a kid and shot that pull-up — 12, 15 feet with a hand in his face. He just walked off like it was nothing.”
Burke was never offered a scholarship to stay in Columbus and play at Ohio State. Instead, he carved out his own legacy at rival Michigan. Playing for the Wolverines, Burke hit the biggest shot of his career. In last year’s Sweet 16, with Michigan down 76-73 to Kansas and time ticking away, the ball never left Burke’s hand until he raised up and drained a 30-foot triple to force overtime.
“When he hit that shot, it was like a spirit went through the whole section. People started crying. You wouldn’t believe it,” Benji Burke said.
If there was any doubt the point guard would go pro, the shot erased it.
Burke’s Michigan teammate Tim Hardaway Jr., now a Knicks guard, watched the shot from the wing. Even before it left his teammate’s hand, he knew what Burke was capable of.
“You can’t shy away from the moment,” he said. “He wants the ball in his hands in the last minute. He wants to take the shot. He wants to be the guy that takes the criticism after a loss if he doesn’t make it.”
Burke’s resiliency has impressed coaches and teammates along the way. The rookie has struggled at times in his first NBA season. He hasn’t shot the ball as well as he believes he can. He hasn’t led the Jazz to as many wins as he would like.
But a fear of failure won’t hamper his effort.
“He could go 0-for-20,” Benji Burke said, “but he’ll take that shot — and he’ll hit it.”
Much of Saturday night had been a struggle for the rookie. Late in the fourth quarter, Burke had connected on only two of his 12 attempts from the field. He’d go on to hit his final three.
With the game tied at 74 Saturday, Burke dribbled to his right and raised up, banking a shot off the glass and in. With the Magic up 77-76, Burke spotted up and hit from 3. Then, with the game on the line, Burke took a bounce pass from Gordon Hayward and fired from the corner, the ball barely sailing over the outstretched hand of Magic rookie Victor Oladipo.
“Those are the things that give you confidence that this guy has something a little special about him,” Corbin said.
Steve Luhm contributed to the reporting of this story.
Pistons at Jazz
P Monday, 7 p.m.
TV • ROOT
Utah Jazz vs. Detroit Pistons
P At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • Monday, 7 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 23-47; Pistons 25-44
About the Jazz • Snapped a six-game losing streak with a win over the Magic on Saturday. … Guard Alec Burks has been ruled out for the game with a sprained ankle. … Beat the Pistons 110-89 in Detroit earlier this year.
About the Pistons • Have lost eight of their last 10 games. … Forward Josh Smith leads the team in scoring, averaging 16.5 points per game. … Andre Drummond’s 12.8 rebounds per game are the second most in the NBA.
In the clutch
Shooting performance in the last five minutes of games within five points
Player FGM FGA FG% 3FGM 3FGA 3FG%
Trey Burke 24 45 53.3% 11 19 57.9%
Gordon Hayward 17 36 47.2% 4 10 40%
Derrick Favors 14 23 60.9% 0 0 0%
Alec Burks 10 25 40% 1 6 16.7%
Enes Kanter 9 20 45% 0 0 0%
Marvin Williams 7 19 36.8% 5 15 33.3%
Richard Jefferson 6 13 46.2% 3 7 42.9%