I think right now, Ricky would agree, this isn’t time to celebrate an individual game to the extent that we can celebrate him playing well and celebrate is the wrong word, there’s no celebrating anything he’s just got to keep being solid. —Jazz coach Quin Snyder
SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly a decade has passed since a young Carmelo Anthony last battled the Utah Jazz in a postseason series, but the 33-year-old veteran already knew what to expect entering Salt Lake City this weekend.
With the City Edition court, uniforms and T-shirts on display for Game 3, the atmosphere was electric Saturday at Vivint Arena as the Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder returned to Utah for the first-round duel.
“It’s like a college game, like a college atmosphere,” Anthony described Vivint Arena, formerly known as EnergySolutions Arena. “I think that’s what makes that place so unique. I enjoy playing there. I think those games are fun. We will enjoy these next two games.”
Anthony certainly had the experience, previously falling 4-2 to the Jazz in the first round as a member of the Denver Nuggets in 2010, but it was Utah guard Ricky Rubio who stole the show in his first home playoff game.
Chants of “RUBIO! RUBIO! RUBIO!” showered the arena as the Spanish guard went on a tear midway through the second quarter with eight consecutive points — even stopping to lift his arms to stir up the crowd at one point after being fouled on a 3-point shot.
He went for 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the opening half to spark the Jazz to a 115-102 win against OKC. Rubio ended with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists on the night, including a 3-pointer to beat the third-quarter buzzer.
“Game 1 wasn’t what I expected as far as me shooting the ball, and I wanted to get better and get some extra work and build confidence,” said Rubio, who put in extra work on his shot entering Game 2.
Rubio’s triple-double was the first in a postseason since John Stockton on April 28, 2001, at Dallas — and the third in franchise history, joining Stockton and Rickey Green. In fact, no Jazz player has even posted a triple-double in the regular season since Carlos Boozer in 2008.
“Having my name next to his name is an honor,” Rubio said of Stockton. “I don’t know what else to say. It’s huge. I have huge respect for him and playing here he was great because I know how important a point guard he is for this franchise and I feel great.”
Rubio exited the game to loud cheers with 2:18 remaining in regulation as the sellout crowd stood to its feet.
“He had a heckuva game, and it’s one of the big reasons we were able to win the game,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “I think right now, Ricky would agree, this isn’t time to celebrate an individual game to the extent that we can celebrate him playing well, and ‘celebrate’ is the wrong word. There’s no celebrating anything; he’s just got to keep being solid.”
After leading by as many as eight in the opening quarter, the Jazz trailed OKC 30-22 after the first 12 minutes. Russell Westbrook went 2 for 6 from the field for six points, five assists and three rebounds, but the Thunder shot 61.1 percent from the field as a team while going 60 percent from beyond the arc.
Utah fell behind by as many as 12 early in the second quarter but closed the half on a 30-14 run once Steven Adams hit the bench with his third foul, on Rudy Gobert at 9:20. The Jazz outscored the Thunder 36-23 in the second quarter to enter halftime with a 58-53 lead.
Even with star rookie Donovan Mitchell picking up his fourth foul at 6:22 in the third, Westbrook struggled with seven of his eight turnovers entering the fourth. Rubio’s buzzer-beating trey at the end of the third lifted Utah to a 14-point lead as fans continued to chant Rubio’s name after the big shot.
OKC opened the fourth on a 9-2 run, trimming the lead to 91-84 led by Paul George even as things got chippy with him and Royce O’Neale when they were hit with double technical fouls at 10:55. However, the Jazz stormed back to win the game by 13 points.
Mitchell ended with 22 points, 11 rebounds and two steals in 34 minutes, describing his first home playoff experience as the “loudest crowd I’ve ever played in front of.”
Joe Ingles also knocked down five 3-pointers with 21 points and four assists while Gobert logged 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Westbrook went 5-for-17 from the field with 14 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. George added 23 points, and Anthony finished with 14 points and four rebounds.
Anthony knew how the atmosphere would be for Game 3, but the Thunder couldn’t keep up as Game 4 is set for Monday at 8:30 p.m. with “white out” T-shirts in place for fans to keep the momentum going.
“This is a time where we got to come together, more so now than ever, on the road in Utah,” Anthony said. “I’ve been in Utah in the playoffs before. It’s a great environment to play in, to be honest with you. The fans are all over the top of you. They’re screaming, they’re yelling. Whatever they say, they say.”