The 2nd Best Player Performance of 2017-18

October 15th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

Ricky Rubio celebrates with fans during the Utah’s Jazz’s Game 3 victory over the Thunder, thanks in large part to Rubio’s triple double, which proved to be the second-best Jazz performance of the year. ( Adam Fondren/Deseret News)

Leading up to start of the 2018-19 Utah Jazz season, Salt City Hoops is counting down the ten best player performances from last season. See games that just missed the top ten here and also check out #10, #9, #8#7#6#5#4 , and #3 from previous weeks!

#2: Ricky Rubio, April 21, 2018

Jazz 115, Thunder 102 in Salt Lake City, Game 3 of the NBA Playoffs’ First Round

26 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 50% field goals, 2 of 9 from three, 6 of 7 free throws. [24.3 PIE, 25.6 GmSc]1

Context

In Game 2 of the first-round playoff between the Jazz and the Thunder, the Jazz had pulled off the upset win. A physically overpowering performance by Derrick Favors combined with lackluster play by Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony —  who combined for only 54 points on 58 shots — helped the Jazz draw even, 1-1. After claiming a split on the road, the Jazz returned to Vivint Smart Home Arena for perhaps the pivotal game in the series.

But the Thunder were confident. They were still series favorites, widely seen as possessing superior talent and experience. A win in Game 3 would not only restore the home court advantage they’d lost in the previous contest, but also would be a serious blow to the moral of both a young Jazz team and a Utah fan base rabid with enthusiasm after a torrid push into and up the playoff ranks to close the regular season. 

Why It Makes the List

Regardless of what else happens in the career of Russell Westbrook, he will enter the Hall of Fame on his very first ballot, and when that happens Triple Double will be welded to his name and legacy.

Nothing else Westbrook does, not his MVP award or possible future championships or any other accolades, will rise to primacy when assessing his career. He will always be known as the only player in league history with multiple seasons averaging a triple double2.

Westbrook is perhaps the most ferocious competitor in NBA history, a basketball force capable of filling every statistical corner of the game as well as a league MVP and eight-time All League standout.   

The Jazz matched that with Ricky Rubio, who required 430 NBA games and seven seasons just to reach the playoffs. 

In Game 3, Rubio gave the Jazz command of the series by putting up the franchise’s first postseason triple double in 17 years3, and he did so right in Westbrook’s face.

It was an amazing 37 minutes of play to witness. Unlike games in the back half of the regular season, when Rubio experienced bursts of hot shooting from the three point line to fuel offensive explosions, the Spaniard’s three point shot was completely in character this game. He made only two of nine attempts, only slightly better than 20-percent accuracy. It was exactly the type of shooting performance that had to this point proven a fatal weakness in Rubio’s career.

This game, somehow, it didn’t matter.

Much like Westbrook, a suspect shooter who imposes himself on the league through intensity, activity, and sheer will, Rubio controlled the contest despite his wayward 3-point shot: a game-high 26 points, a game-high 10 assists, 11 rebounds, with a pair of steals and a block thrown in, all wrapped in a 50-percent shooting performance (despite those seven missed threes). It was a prototypical Rubio game, and it was dominant.

That he did this in his very first playoff series, and against Westbrook himself, remade the series and maybe Rubio’s career as well.

Westbrook tried to match Rubio’s immense impact in the game, missing his own triple double by only a single assist. Yet his combustible temper and energy overwhelmed him, resulting in wild, uncontrolled detriment to his team. He made only five of 17 shots, a madly inaccurate 29-percent, and turned the ball over eight times.  

Westbrook never recovered in the series. He remained insanely determined but clearly wasn’t confident or comfortable, especially the next game, when his hyper-focus on Rubio4 helped the team-oriented Jazz to what proved a decisive 3-1 lead in the series.

In pointed irony, the greatest stat stuffing force in league history ate perhaps the most consequential triple double of the season. It was fed to him by Ricky Rubio5.

Take Note

What does willing a team to a playoff win look like? Rubio, a career 10 point per game scorer, scored 10 consecutive Jazz points late in the second quarter and then hit a three at the buzzer of the third. Those 13 points were the game’s margin of victory.

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.

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