SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – With starting point guard Ricky Rubio out with a back injury, the Jazz needed Dante Exum to have a major impact Saturday night.
Exum did just that, scoring 13 points and dishing out a career-high 13 assists in a 129-97 victory over the New York Knicks on Saturday.
Exum made sure the Jazz didn’t skip a beat without Rubio, who sat out with lower back and left knee contusions. He made the right reads on nearly every possession and routinely executed crisp passes to set up easy baskets.
”Guys that are willing to be unselfish want to make players around them better,” Exum said after his first career double-double. ”That’s something I try to do when I’m out on the court, get guys involved.”
Rudy Gobert ended up as the biggest benefactor from Exum’s passing. Gobert had a team-high 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting and grabbed 16 rebounds for his 31st double-double of the season.
Gobert figured he would have a good connection with Exum, especially after he threw down a dunk off a lob pass for his first basket.
”I always love to play with Dante,” Gobert said. ”He’s a very good passer and tonight he was great. Really gave us the spark we needed during the game.”
Utah quickly took control of the game behind that Exum-Gobert connection, hitting its first six baskets in the paint and scoring 24 points in the paint by the end of the first quarter. Gobert led the way, scoring 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the period.
Gobert’s last three baskets in the quarter were part of a 17-5 run that pushed Utah to a double-digit lead. Kyle Korver punctuated the run with a 3-pointer from the corner that put the Jazz up 30-14.
Utah didn’t let up in the second quarter. The Jazz used a 14-2 run to take a 60-26 lead with 2:26 left before halftime. They eventually built a 40-point lead before the break, going up 71-31 on a layup by Mitchell with 4.6 seconds left in the quarter.
”They was getting downhill on most every possession,” Knicks guard Emmanuel Mudiay said. ”They didn’t feel us enough.”
Mitchell added 15 points and Korver chipped in 15 off the bench for the Jazz, who won for the sixth time in seven home games.
The Jazz outscored New York 70-26 in the paint, matching a franchise record for points in the paint, and finished with a 60-35 rebounding advantage. The 60 rebounds were a season-high for Utah.
”We did a good job in our execution early in the game,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. ”I thought we came out and did an excellent job on the defensive glass and our guards made good decisions.”
Tim Hardaway, Jr. scored 18 points and Luke Kornet added 14 in his second start for the Knicks. New York lost its seventh straight. The Knicks have one win in their last 13 games overall.
New York trimmed the deficit to 82-60 on a 3-pointer by Hardaway late in the third quarter. But, that’s as close as the Knicks got in the second half.
Utah answered with a 15-3 run, punctuated by baskets from Raul Neto and Royce O’Neale, for a 97-63 lead in the final minute of the third quarter.
”They came out with force and we came out dead,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. ”We had no legs, no life – nothing. We couldn’t make shots. We couldn’t get stops. It was just a total avalanche.”
Gobert tallied 24 points and 12 boards during the first half alone after turning repeated feeds from Exum into mostly uncontested dunks and layups. It marked the first time that a Jazz player totaled at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in any half since Carlos Boozer did it against the Los Angeles Clippers on February 9, 2010.
The Jazz next play at Toronto January 1st.