We don’t win that game without Alec, there’s no question about it. —Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder
SALT LAKE CITY — It didn’t look good for the Utah Jazz Friday night when point guard Ricky Rubio went out in the first quarter with a hamstring injury.
Rubio had been one of the top players for the Jazz throughout the playoffs, particularly in Game 3 when he had a triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He came into Friday’s game averaging 16.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 7.8 assists in 35 minutes in the five games, but was limited to just seven minutes because of the injury.
But several players stepped up for Rubio’s, led of course, by rookie Donovan Mitchell, who came through with a spectacular performance with 38 points, including 15 in the first six minutes of the third quarter when the Jazz first pulled away.
Another unlikely hero emerged in Rubio’s absence.
Alec Burks, who has been shelved in mothballs for most of the second half of the season and throughout the playoffs, played 17 minutes and scored 11 points and playing some solid defense.
Coach Quin Snyder couldn't say enough about Burks after the 96-91 series-clinching victory.
"We don’t win that game without Alec, there’s no question about it," Snyder said. "We’ve said all year long whether it’s injury or foul trouble, we’ve had guys step up, that’s what these guys are about. Alec was the one tonight who found himself in a situation he didn’t envision at the beginning of shootaround today."
"He’s stayed ready -- it’s easy for a coach to say, 'stay ready, you never know when your number’s going to be called.' That’s coachspeak," continued Snyder. "For players to actually be able to do that -- you saw tonight as good an example as you can have of a guy who was able to do that."
Burks, a one-time starter for the Jazz, hadn’t played in 12 of Utah’s final 20 games of the season and had only played briefly in three playoff games. But he came through for the Jazz when he was called upon.
Rubio left the game at 4:42 mark of the first quarter with a left hamstring injury, an issue he had dealt with earlier in the season. A few minutes later, Jazz PR confirmed that he would be out for the remainder of the game.
Dante Exum initially replaced Rubio as he usually has been since he became healthy late in the season. However, then Quin Snyder decided to bring in Burks, who had played a grand total of seven minutes previously in the series.
Burks, who had scored 10 points in less than two minutes of garbage time of Game 1, provided some instant offense with a pair of drives early in the second quarter, the latter a three-point play to put the Jazz up 23-22, capping an 11-2 run. Later he hit a long two-pointer in the third quarter and added another 3-pointer from the right corner early in the fourth quarter.
Burks, a man of a few words, didn't have a lot to say after the game.
"It was a great win, I'm proud of my teammates," Burks said. "I'm fearless, I've been like that since I've been in the league and I'm going to stay like that."
"I'm unbelievably proud of him, he’s a reflection of what our group has been about all year," added Snyder. "When we’ve faced adversity we’ve been able to keep our composure and guys have believed in each other."
Rubio's status is up in the air going into Sunday's game in Houston. He missed his only shot attempt and had three assists and a rebound before departing. The other two point guards for the Jazz, Exum and Raul Neto weren’t called on, as Exum played just three minutes total and Neto didn’t get off the bench.