In theory, there’s never a good time to simultaneously be missing your starting point guard and your sometimes starting forward/sometimes sixth man from a game due to injuries.
But if it happens to coincide with the New York Knicks appearing on the schedule …
The Jazz had exactly zero problems sans Ricky Rubio and Jae Crowder on Saturday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena, torching the hapless Knicks on both ends en route to a 129-97 victory.
Dante Exum started in place of Rubio (out with back and leg contusions) and matched his career-high in assists by halftime, going on to finish with with his first career double-double by totaling 13 points and 13 dimes for the game.
Rudy Gobert, meanwhile, toyed with the Knicks’ undersized frontline and capitalized fully on their defensive ineptitude, totaling a double-double before the break. His 24 points (on 10-of-11 shooting) and 13 rebounds in the first half made him the first Jazzman since Carlos Boozer on Feb. 9, 2010 to post 20-and-10 in a half.
Gobert played six nondescript third-quarter minutes, and finished the game with 25 points and 16 boards.
Exum and Gobert connected on an alley-oop on the game’s first possession, and the tone was set from there.
“I just threw it up to Rudy, and everything after that just kept opening up,” Exum said. “… It’s just about going out there and reading, being put into those situations time and time again. And then it just gets easier to make that right decision.”
Crowder’s absence due to a thumb contusion further had no discernible deleterious effect on Utah’s performance, as the team shot 54.8 percent from the field while holding New York to 37.2. The Jazz also had sizable advantages in rebounds (60-35), assists (30-15) and points in the paint (70-26).
Utah led 39-17 after the first quarter, and 71-34 by halftime — and honestly, it could have been much worse had the team not missed so many “Why not? May as well” 3-pointers. (The team shot just 2 of 10 from deep in the first quarter, and 6 of 18 in the opening half, before heating up late and finishing 16 of 36.)
“Really, when we’re guarding well, and getting a rebound, and getting out and running, that’s when we’re at our best,” said Kyle Korver. “… We’ve been playing good defense for the most part this last month, getting out and running; Rudy, obviously, is paid so much attention at the rim, honestly, it opens up a lot of things for us.”
Anyone looking to nitpick the effort could perhaps cite the third period, when the team came out playing with all the effort you’d expect of a group up 37 at halftime and getting whatever it wanted all night, leading to the Knicks earning a 32-26 scoring advantage for the 12-minute stretch, and thereby nearly doubling their scoring total.
Quin Snyder, being the team’s coach, certainly was not above doing so.
“I think that we played well. And the score in this case reflected that we played well. I think in the second half, we didn’t play as well,” Snyder said. “Part of it, for our group, is continuing to maintain our discipline and consistency.”
Fair enough, even if the game’s latter 24 minutes amounted to, in effect, a bored cat playing with the mouse it had caught.
The only other excitement of the evening came in the form of booing former Jazz center Enes Kanter every time he touched the ball.
After Derrick Favors drilled a pair of 3-pointers early in the final quarter, it was all over but the substitutions.
Georges Niang checked in. Ekpe Udoh checked in. Naz Mitrou-Long got some minutes. Even Tony Bradley — called up from the G League’s Salt Lake Stars earlier in the day — made his first appearance of the season with the Jazz.
Donovan Mitchell and Korver added 15 apiece for Utah, Favors contributed 12 and Thabo Sefolosha had 10, as the team posted six players in double-digit scoring.
Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Knicks with 18.
The victory improved the Jazz’s record to 18-19 on the season, ahead of a four-game road trip that will kick off the 2019 calendar.
New York — which fittingly saw another former Jazzman, Trey Burke, airball the final shot of the game — lost its seventh straight game and dropped to 9-28.
Favors, meanwhile, said that while the Knicks were clearly not on the same level as the Philadelphia 76ers, who routed the Jazz just two nights earlier, that didn’t mean there was nothing meaningful to learn from this performance.
“You can always take something from a game, and with this game, I think we take away the mindset that we had to win,” he said. “… We just gotta keep that energy and that mindset, and apply it when we play better teams.”