Houston • Playing without Ricky Rubio under any circumstance isn’t easy for the Utah Jazz. Doing it against the Houston Rockets in the second round of the playoffs makes for a monumental task.
This is what’s facing the Jazz, heading into Wednesday night’s Game 2 at the Toyota Center.
Game 1 without their floor leader didn’t go so well. The ball movement, which has always been prevalent for Utah, lacked. More of an offensive load was placed upon rookie guard Donovan Mitchell, and the backcourt lacked its usual depth.
“Everyone has to step up,” Jazz forward Jae Crowder said. “We just have to be more in tune with getting the ball into the paint. But everyone has to step up and try to fill the void.”
On Sunday, the Jazz started Mitchell at point guard, but had small forward Joe Ingles handling the ball and setting up the offense on many possessions. Royce O’Neale was placed into the starting lineup and was given the assignment defensively of guarding James Harden.
Off the bench, Dante Exum had possibly his best game of the playoffs, scoring nine points, getting to the basket and finishing at the rim. And Raul Neto played eight good minutes, scoring a pair of baskets.
The Jazz know making up for Rubio won’t be easy. He’s emerged as their most savvy ballhandler, and as a floor leader. He’s improved his shooting and ability to score. He’s figured out a way to make Rudy Gobert and the Jazz’s other big men better.
But, they also know they will be without him for much of the series. If they want to avoid elimination before he’s ready to return, they will have to get used to playing without him, and quickly.
No big twist?
Donovan Mitchell gave fans a scare on Sunday in the fourth quarter, when cameras captured his right ankle twisting as Eric Gordon accidentally stepped on his shoe.
And yet after the game, Mitchell seemed to require no special treatment on his ankle. He re-entered the game, played for several more minutes after it happened, and was spotted in flip-flops afterward. He told reporters that the injury looked worse than it was.
Mitchell was not available Monday morning to media, but the Jazz didn’t indicate that the twist caused any lingering injury.
A day off
The Rockets have become accustomed to not practicing every day and skipping shootarounds throughout the season. On the heels of their fifth win over the Jazz this season, coach Mike D’Antoni gave his team another off-day at home.
The Rockets were not available to the media on Monday. They resume practice Tuesday morning.