Jazz cruise over lifeless Knicks

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SALT LAKE CITY — On Utah’s first possession of the game, Dante Exum dribbled around a screen from Rudy Gobert and drove fast toward the hoop. Gobert rolled down the paint, caught Exum’s lob and slammed it down with two hands.

That was just the beginning of a dominant night for Utah.

There was an NBA game Saturday night at Vivint Arena. Or at least that’s what the schedule said. You would have been forgiven if you thought the Jazz were playing against an exhibition team from Europe or Australia, or maybe even a downtown rec league squad. The Knicks looked that bad for a large portion of the game.

The Jazz (18-19) took a 40-point lead in the first half and went on to win 129-97 over a completely lifeless Knicks team.

But while the Knicks were hilariously awful for much of the opening half, credit also should go to the Jazz for making them look that way.

“I think we played well,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I think the score, in this case, reflected that we played well. … I think we did a good job with our execution early in the game. I felt we came back and did a good job on the defensive glass, and our guards made good decisions.”

The Jazz often made the Knicks look silly. In fact, there were times when New York appeared as they had never seen a pick-and-roll before

Exum started off the game with a lob to Gobert, and that was far from the last one of the night. Gobert had 16 of his 25 points in the first quarter, and many of those points came via lobs from Exum or Donovan Mitchell. The Knicks couldn’t contain Utah’s guards, and they sure couldn’t keep Gobert away from the rim.

“They just played in the middle, and I just threw it up to Rudy, and after that, it just kept opening up and opening up,” Exum said.

That led to Exum finishing with a career-high 13 assists. He also scored 13 points for his first career double-double.

“(Gobert’s) first quarter performance was directly tied to Dante and Donovan and those guys passing the ball,” Snyder said. “There are a lot of games where Rudy doesn’t do anything that is dissimilar than tonight. That option in the pick-and-roll isn’t an option. One of the things that he is really good at is continuing to put pressure on the rim with his rolls. Sometimes it’s not there.”

Most of the time, he isn’t playing the Knicks.

With the ease of Utah scoring, their lead ballooned quickly. The Jazz led by 22 points after the first quarter and had a 40-point lead in the second quarter. New York did show some signs of life after halftime, getting the Jazz lead back down to 22 points, but that surge was short-lived.

For Exum, it was a continuation of a solid run of play, but one that Snyder is cautious about reading too much into. Or he is trying to at least not evaluate too much. Exum may be in his fifth season, but he has struggled with injuries throughout his career, making it difficult for him to truly progress.

“He didn’t play last year,” Snyder said. “There is going to be volatility with a young player as they get better. … He has been more under control in the paint. He’s using ball fakes. His vision has picked up. He’s using his height to get up and throw the ball cross court when it’s available. That to me is reflective of him growing as a player.”

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