Thunder try to even series with Utah
(Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY -- Being a playoff novice isn't preventing Utah Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio from making a major impact on the court.
Rubio turned in one of the finest performances of his career while sparking the Jazz to a 115-102 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday. He tallied 26 points on 9-for-18 shooting, 10 assists, 11 rebounds and two steals to help Utah claim a 2-1 series lead over Oklahoma City. The Thunder will look to even the series again when the two teams square off again on Monday night.
Rubio became the first Jazz player to earn a triple-double in the postseason since John Stockton did it in 2001. Being in the same company as an NBA Hall of Famer meant a great deal to Rubio.
"Having my name next to his name is an honor," Rubio said. "I don't know what else to say. It's huge. I have huge respect for him."
Rubio's efforts rescued Utah when the Jazz dug a hole late in the first quarter and early in the second quarter. Oklahoma City took a 45-33 lead on a driving layup from Russell Westbrook about five minutes into the quarter. Rubio suddenly took over and imposed his will on both ends of the court.
Over the final 7:13 of the first half, Rubio ripped off 15 points on 4 of 8 shooting, collected six rebounds, dished out a pair of assists and had a steal. It turned a 12-point deficit into 58-53 halftime lead for the Jazz.
"Ricky attacked," Utah coach Quin Snyder said. "He attacked, but with poise and he was making some shots. I thought he took good shots and it really stabilized our group during that time."
Utah never trailed in the second half and the team's latest win has put Oklahoma City in a desperate position going into Game 4. The Thunder need a victory to avoid going back to Oklahoma facing an elimination game on Wednesday.
"Game 4 is going to be a test of what type of team we are and who we are as a team," forward Carmelo Anthony said. "We look forward to these type of challenges."
The Thunder put tons of defensive pressure on the Jazz at times. Oklahoma City forced 19 turnovers and turned those turnovers into 33 points. But the Thunder could not take care of the ball when it mattered as the game progressed.
Oklahoma City coughed up 17 turnovers, leading to 15 points for the Jazz. Six of them came in the third quarter and led to 10 points for Utah. It allowed the Jazz to build an 89-75 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
"We did a nice job midway through that second quarter and then I thought our turnovers came back and really caused a problem for us," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "I felt like our guys were working hard to get back, but it's hard to recover when you turn the ball over like that."
For Oklahoma City, snapping a two-game skid might come down to figuring out how to gain an edge around the basket. The Jazz have imposed their will in the post during the series.
In three games, Utah has outscored the Thunder 140-108 in the paint. The Jazz also have a 37-25 advantage in offensive rebounds and a 49-36 edge in second-chance points.
Updated April 23, 2018