SALT LAKE CITY — To put Saturday’s Utah Jazz game in perspective, outscoring Rudy Gobert in the first half might’ve been the highlight for the New York Knicks.
That duel — which the Knicks won 34-24 over The Stifle Tower — was much closer than the outcome between the two teams at full strength.
After going ahead by 22 points in the first quarter, by 40 points before halftime and by as many as 46 points, the Jazz cruised to 129-97 victory over their Eastern Conference guests at Vivint Arena.
“I think that we played well,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “That’s why the score, in this case, reflected that we played well.”
Snyder didn’t love how the Jazz let off the gas in the third quarter when they were outscored 32-26 — and he wants to work on consistency and discipline — but any complaints about the Jazz’s play on this night might make one sound greedy.
This was simply a Knickerbocker slobber-knocker. It couldn’t have come at a better time for the Jazz, considering Thursday’s disappointing showing against the Sixers and the upcoming four-game road trip to Toronto, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee.
“Force. They came out with force. We came out dead,” said Knicks coach David Fizdale after New York dropped to 9-28 and Utah improved to 18-19. “We just had no legs, no life, nothing. Couldn’t make shots, couldn’t get stops. It was just a total avalanche.”
Using that analogy, Gobert was the one who ignited the dynamite at the top of the peak. The 7-foot-1 Frenchman dominated the paint in the first half, scoring a couple of dozen points on 10-of-11 shooting while grabbing 13 rebounds. He finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds after only playing seven minutes in the second half of the landslide result.
Point guard Dante Exum filled in nicely for injured Ricky Rubio (left low back/left knee contusion), dishing out 12 first-half assists en route to his first-ever double-double of 13 points and 13 assists with just one turnover.
Mitchell also had 13 of his 15 points before Utah took a jaw-dropping 71-34 lead into the locker room at the break. Only a Tim Hardaway Jr. buzzer-beating 3-pointer helped the Knicks avoid their worst halftime deficit.
“We defended,” Mitchell said. “I think late in the second half we let up a little bit, and we’re going to fix that, but the way we came out, moving the ball, taking care of the ball, hitting shots and defending the way we did was really impressive.”
To be fair, New York also impressively improved in the second half by outscoring Gobert 63-1.
The win was sweet revenge for Jazz fans who have yet to forgive — or forget — how Enes Kanter scorched earth on his way out of Utah after demanding a trade a few years ago.
Kanter was loudly booed the first time he was announced while entering the game off the bench in the first half, and he received Bronx cheers every time he touched the ball the rest of the game.
One of the louder cheers of the night mockingly happened when Kanter missed a layup in the third quarter. Considering how the former Jazz fan favorite finished scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting and minus-30 in just 17 minutes, Utah faithful might loudly cheer for him the next time he returns to his first NBA home.
Kanter was dejected in the locker room after the game, telling New York media, "I just want to play basketball. … I don't understand why they are shutting me down. I just want to go out there and win.”7 comments on this story
As much as he personally struggled, this loss was hardly just on the former Jazzman. Utah had a 13-point lead on the Knicks by the time Kanter subbed in eight minutes into the final game of 2018. New York ended up shooting 37.2 percent from the field and got manhandled by the Jazz in the paint where Utah enjoyed a 70-26 advantage.
“I think we had a bad taste in our mouth from last game, and I thought we came out with a good intensity,” said Jazz guard Kyle Korver, who finished with 15 points. “I thought Rudy was big around the basket, just really protecting the rim but also finishing a bunch of lobs. … (He) was really active and really just changed the game.”