The series between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder was always going to be about a star point guard who can dominate games with his scoring and defense, and who can go off in any game and finish with a triple-double.
Wait — we aren’t talking about Russell Westbrook?
No, we’re not. Not Saturday night.
Ricky Rubio, playing the first home playoff game of his career, dominated Game 3, finishing with a triple-double in the Jazz’s dominant 115-102 victory at Vivint Smart Home Arena to take a 2-1 series lead.
Rubio finished with with Utah’s first playoff triple- double since John Stockton against the Dallas Mavericks in 2001.
Rubio scored a game-high 26 points and added 11 rebounds and 10 assists to dominate his matchup against the more celebrated Westbrook.
“Having my name next to his name [John Stockton] is an honor. I don’t know what else to say, it’s huge. I have huge respect for him. He was great, and I know how important a point guard he is for this franchise. It’s great to be mentioned with him.”
Rubio carried the Jazz in the first half, bringing them back from a 45-33 second-quarter deficit with 19 first-half points. He was tremendous defensively in 37 high-octane minutes, helping hold Westbrook to 5-of-17 shooting from the field.
And by the end, the Vivint crowd serenaded him with “Ru-bi-o” chants that reverberated through the arena.
“Ricky attacked, but with some points,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He was making some shots. I thought he took good shots. It really stabilized our group.”
It’s a group that has been in relative control since a Game 1 loss, in which they looked overwhelmed in large part. Utah now has an opportunity to take complete control on Monday night, when a win would give it a 3-1 edge.
Beyond Rubio, the Jazz heroes proved plentiful. Rudy Gobert was sensational on both ends, again playing Steven Adams off the floor with 18 points and 12 rebounds. The presumptive Defensive Player of the Year, Gobert shut down the middle to the point Thunder players were pulling up for contested midrange jumpers rather than going into the paint.
Donovan Mitchell was brilliant offensively with 22 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and handing out a pair of assists. He was able to find creases in OKC’s defense, and also found his 3-point shooting stroke for the first time in the series, making four shots from beyond the arc.
Perhaps most important for the Jazz was the offensive return of Joe Ingles. The starting forward, who struggled in the first two games, hit five 3-pointers and finished with 21 points, four assists and three rebounds.
Snyder, showing an excellent ability to adjust, made subtle changes to how he used Ingles. Instead of having him initiate offense against the defense of Paul George, Snyder brought Ingles off pin-down baseline screens, creating separation for him. Eventually, OKC’s defense loosened up in the second half, and Ingles received several open looks.
For much of the first half, it looked like the Jazz would have trouble winning this game. OKC coach Billy Donovan made a significant adjustment of his own, playing Patrick Patterson, a good 3-point shooter, at center in relief of Adams, who again had foul trouble. It gave the Thunder a 5-out offense that produced open looks from the perimeter.
“It’s one thing to stay big,” Snyder said. “It’s another thing to stay big with Rudy and Derrick [Favors]. That was a unique lineup they had with Patterson at center and with Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. It presented us with problems, no question.”
But the Jazz closed the first half on a 25-8 run to take a 58-53 lead. And in the third quarter, after OKC opened a 63-60 lead, Utah scored the next nine points to take control.
The Thunder made one more run, closing within 91-84 in the fourth quarter. But Utah again pulled away, taking a 110-92 advantage with 2:20 remaining.
“We played great tonight,” Favors said. “Ricky was great. He was all over the place. We played great. We were aggressive. They went on their runs, but we stayed together as a team.”