Over the last six years, Ricky Rubio was largely known as a point guard good enough to stay in the NBA but not really able to help his team accomplish anything significant.
To make matters worse, he also had the indignation of being one of two point guards the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted ahead of Steph Curry in 2009 NBA Draft. Jonny Flynn, you may remember, was the other player the Timberwolves thought more highly of than Curry, who was the seventh player selected.
Fortunately, as laborious as it may be, reputations can change over time.
For the first time in the NBA, Rubio is playing in the postseason. And to add to it, he’s a major reason the Jazz hold a 2-1 advantage over the Oklahoma City Thunder in their best-of-seven series.
Following up on a strong Game 2, Rubio again was dominant in leading the Jazz to a 115-102 win Saturday at Vivint Smart Home Arena. In 37 minutes, Rubio totaled 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, becoming just the third Jazz player in franchise history to accomplish the feat in the NBA Playoffs alongside John Stockton (2001) and Rickey Green (1984).
“He had a heck of a game,” said coach Quin Snyder. “It’s one of the reasons we were able to win the game.”
In his seventh NBA season, the 27-year-old from Spain has rebooted his professional career. Amazing what a little confidence can do for a player.
It started last summer when the Jazz acquired him from the Timberwolves. Being wanted tends to feel good.
“He’s got teammates and coaches that believe him and support him and have a pretty unreal amount of confidence in him,” said teammate Joe Ingles. “I don’t want to speak for Minnesota…but I would be surprised if he had coaches and teammates who have his back like we do. We want him being aggressive.
“He’s been labeled this non-shooter his whole career. He’s a really good shooter; he just needs people that believe him and help him.”
What may have started as a mustard seed has grown into a Mount Olympus-sized amount of faith. The entire state of Utah believes in this man now.
After the Jazz lost Game 1, during which he shot 5 of 18, Rubio decided to get back to being a facilitator. He responded with 22 points, seven rebounds and nine assists in helping the Jazz take over home-court advantage with their Game 2 victory.
Practically out of nowhere, the player who couldn’t shoot straight is posting a triple-double in the playoffs. No big deal to believers.
“He’s controlled our team all year,” Ingles said. “He’s been a great leader for us from the point guard position.”
Through the first two games, Ingles had a few doubters concerning his play, too. After not doing much on offense. But he shattered any thoughts of a slump in this game, scoring 21 points and making half of his 10 three-point attempts.
An aggressive mindset made the difference.
“He was able to get loose and get some clean looks and make them,” said Snyder. “They were big shots.”
In opening a double-digit lead, the Thunder hit several big shots in the first half. They ran off an 18-2 spurt to assume control in the second quarter only to see the Jazz rally back to take a 58-53 lead into halftime.
The Thunder began the second half quickly, but the Jazz settled down and ended up scoring 31 points in the third quarter. The Jazz responded with a score to shut down any potential run Oklahoma City tried to make in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, the Jazz were much sharper in the second half. At one point in the first half, the Thunder were shooting 64 percent from the field but finished with 47 percent.
The Jazz also scored 33 points off of the Thunder’s 17 turnovers.