Rubio’s Game-Winning Three Conquers Raptors

January 26th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

Ricky Rubio’s (3) game winning three with less than five seconds left gave Utah its seventh road win of the season–and the Raptors their fifth home loss. (spin.ph)

Story of the Game

It’s questionable whether one game can truly change the course of a season, but if that is possible the Utah Jazz’s 97 – 93 victory over the Toronto Raptors in Toronto just might prove that type of game.

Coming off two wins in their last three contests and three wins in their last five, Utah played with a competitive fire and confidence that has been missing much of the season, particularly on the road. A strong first quarter saw every Jazz starter plus Jonus Jerebko score four or more points en route to a 30-point first quarter.

Unfortunately, as well as Utah played for much of the game there were stretches where the energy and execution lagged, an in those spots Toronto threatened to grab the game by the throat. Actually, it was pretty much Jonus Valanciunas who threatened to choke the life out of the Jazz by himself. By halftime he had 17 points, nine rebounds, and three blocks and had led the Raptors back from a six point deficit after the first quarter to a three point halftime lead.

The Jazz entered the third quarter lethargic and cold, at one point missing 11 straight shots between the end of the second quarter and into the third. Toronto’s lead ballooned to a high for either team of 12. Then, thanks largely to Rudy Gobert’s energy and willingness to bang with the thicker player, Valanciunas picked up three quick fouls, which added to his one foul in the first half took him out of the game.

Then Donovan Mitchell took over. The jump shot that has been failing him more often of late shored up and he nailed three of four threes in the quarter on the way to 15 points in the period. Rallying around their star rookie, Utah produced another 30-point quarter and snatched back the six-point lead they’d earned after their strong first period.

The fourth was a defensive battle with neither team shooting well — 33 percent for Utah and 36 for Toronto – but with each team making three big threes. Yet Toronto crept ahead, and for a team with the second-best home record in the league1 it must have felt like a near-certain win. Up by one with 19 seconds remaining, they needed only a single stop against a team that has had tremendous offensive problems closing games.

Despite some rough outings in the clutch late, Quin Snyder put the ball in Mitchell’s hands again. But unlike in the past, the play did not start with a player running to give Mitchell a screen. In the past, team’s have doubled Mitchell hard on picks, getting him to turn the ball over. Tonight, Snyder let Mitchell start the game’s defining play in isolation, with only the University of Utah’s own Delon Wright in range to check the super-quick guard.

Mitchell took Wright off the dribble then crossed over, and the threat of the rookie going one-on-one was enough to pull Kyle Lowry off Ricky Rubio. It was almost certainly the Raptors’s defensive plan that if help were needed it should come off the poor shooting guard. But Mitchell didn’t hesitate, hitting Rubio right in the hands with a perfect pass.

Rubio calmly lifted the ball, bending slightly at the knee as Lowry scrambled back to him, and with five seconds left let fly from long range. The ball knocked off the back of the rim and through.


What the clip doesn’t show is one of the most memorable Jazz moments this NBA season: Rubio’s intense, unblinking stare fixed on Mitchell, who matches the stare with a broad grin and bobbing head, yeah, yeah, yeah!, as the two walk to each other in mutual admiration and acknowledgement.

If the Jazz have any chance of making the playoffs, they have to win games no one expects. They won this game that no one expected. Maybe, just maybe, it might prove a victory capable of turning the season.

Stars of the Game

Superstars: Donovan Mitchell (26 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 threes) and Rudy Gobert (18 points, 15 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks)

Mitchell fought through a recent shooting slump and the considerable fatigue the rookie must be feeling to put up a massive 20-point second half, including making four of seven attempts from long range. Unlike in recent close games, he didn’t turn the ball over, thanks in part to Snyder’s decision to let Mitchell operate at the top of the key without screens to initiate the offense. Without a ready double-teamer close at hand, defenders had to risk covering lots of space to double Mitchell, which set up the rookie’s game winning assist to a wide open Rubio.

Gobert may never have faced opposing centers who thrived to such a degree in consecutive games as Andre Drummond’s recent 30/20 game and Valanciunas tonight, who ended the game with 28 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocks. But Gobert’s substantial impact shouldn’t be lost because his opponent played well. Every team places Gobert at the top of their offenses game plan, and he can anticipate getting stiff resistance from the centers in the league with greater bulk than he has, as in these last two games. His ability to give as well as he gets, as he did tonight, will be key.

Mitchell and Gobert are the Jazz core because tonight’s production isn’t out of character for these two players. They’re authentic stars.

Secondary Star: Ricky Rubio (14 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 2 threes)

Rubio has taken a walloping from critics this season, including plenty from myself, and so he deserved that fierce staredown moment with Mitchell after hitting the game winner in perhaps Utah’s biggest victory of the season. Rubio made two of three from long range tonight, and Utah’s offense can get him an open three on any and every possession — as proven by the game winner. When he makes open threes, Utah is a completely different team. While that is likely too much to expect on a consistent basis, there is some good news in that the Spaniard has five or more assists in his last six games, his first such streak this season. He just might be finding his way within the offense.

Secret Star: None

This win is thanks entirely to Utah’s starters, who scored 79 of the team’s 97 points and shot 50 percent from the field and 60 percent from three. The bench scored 18 on 22 percent shooting overall and 17 accuracy from three.

Stats of the Game

24 – The Jazz held Toronto, third in the league at 111 points per game, to 24 points in 3 separate quarters and 21 in the other. The defensive effort was strong.

14 percent – Notorious Jazz killer Kyle Lowry’s field goal percentage on his two of 14 night. He missed all six threes.

7 to 0 – Utah’s scoring run to close out the game.

13 – Raptor blocked shots as they repeatedly turned back Utah’s attempts to attack the paint, which helped them outscore Utah by 12 down low.

48 percent – Three point shooting by the Jazz compared to 26 percent by Toronto.

Sundries

  • Rubio had two awesome outlet passes that led to dunks, one to Royce O’Neale and one to Mitchell. He seems to be figuring out how to do more of what he’s good at and less of what he struggles with. If the Jazz can up the pace, run the court and give him early pass targets, that should really help.
  • It was a strong showing by Raptors with Utah connections. The University of Utah’s Delon Wright had a strong game with five points, six rebounds, three assists, and a steal, and his fellow alum Jacob Poeltl added four points, six rebounds, and a ridiculous five blocks in 21 minutes! Meanwhile, former Jazz player CJ Miles was the best offensive punch off the bench for either team, scoring 10 on eight shots, including two made threes.
  • The Raptors started the fourth quarter with a seven-point run. They also had an 18 to five run in the second quarter. If the Jazz hadn’t had a few such obvious slips, this game would never have had to come down to the wire.
  • Lowry just doesn’t look like the same guy the league has seen the past few seasons. On the season he’s averaging 16.5 points, just under seven assists, and nearly six rebounds, but he was easily over 20 a night the past two years. His field goal attempts are down as is his shooting percentage. The Raptors are really good, maybe the best team in the East, but Lowry doesn’t look quite up to his recent seasons’s standard. Tonight he was awful.
  • Jerebko loosed two of the ugliest hooks in NBA history. That shot may need to be retired.
  • This is Utah’s first win in Toronto since a triple overtime thriller in 2012. Apparently, wins north of the border aren’t easy for the Jazz, nor are they boring.

The Jazz have won three of four games, with two of those victories coming against teams in playoff position at the time of Utah’s win. They’ve done that without Rodney Hood available. The next few weeks leading to the trade deadline will be fascinating to watch, especially if Utah pulls out another few unexpected wins like this one. They’ll try to do just that against the defending champion Warriors on Tuesday.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.
Clint Johnson

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2 Comments

  1. elpocho says:

    I think the Rubio shot will have a huge impact closing games for the rest of the season. Teams can’t assume the Jazz won’t play it risky. Every player needs one on one coverage, and hopefully the Jazz will be able to find a mismatch and exploit it.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I hope so. A number of encouraging things happened on that play, including Mitchell starting out of isolation rather than off a pick, and Mitchell trusting Rubio with that shot and making a nice pass, and Rubio making the shot calmly and with confidence. If I’m defending the Jazz, I think I may still risk hedging off Rubio to close games though.

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