SALT LAKE CITY — There was the time he came back with two pieces of medical tape and some glue holding together the gash above his left eye to make the game-tying assist late in a win over Detroit.
There was the time when, just two days later, that he nailed a game-winning 3-pointer against Toronto.
“We were eight or nine games under .500 his first year (with the Jazz) and we hadn’t found ourselves yet,” Jazz coach Snyder said.
With those two games, Ricky Rubio helped the Jazz do just that.
“In a lot of ways, we took on his personality,” Snyder told the media before Monday’s win over Rubio’s Phoenix Suns. "His unselfishness. How hard he played. Just had great pride and then on a personal level, he's someone that I enjoyed every day."
Ricky Rubio wasn’t a perfect fit for the Utah Jazz, but he had some near-perfect moments. There were those two key games that are so memorable to Snyder and, of course, the triple-double he had in his first home playoff game.
Even when he struggled, his fight, his competitiveness, his spirit were always present. And the Jazz absorbed those characteristics from him.
That’s why a smile spread across Snyder’s face as Rubio walked over to the Jazz bench before the tipoff on Monday in Phoenix in the Spanish point guard’s first game against his former team. The two shook hands and then embraced before Snyder grabbed Rubio’s shoulder in affection. He was downright joyful to see his former player.
“I have a lot of friends still there. It’s fun to play against your friends, you know, but once the jump ball is up, it’s about winning," Rubio told the Arizona Republic before Monday’s game.
Rubio finished with a near triple-double of 10 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists against the Jazz. He made two scooping layups in the final five minutes while being guarded by his replacement Mike Conley (who struggled to a one-point, one-assist and three-turnover night), but also had a key turnover that allowed a late Jazz bucket. And in a one-point game, every mistake mattered.
“It started with me,” Rubio said. “We have to figure that out.”
In some ways that summed up his two years with the Jazz. He had moments of greatness and others of frustration. But the looks on his old teammates’ faces at the game’s conclusion showed just how much he meant to the team.
After the final horn, Rubio was occupied with the officials, asking why they hadn’t checked to see if more time should be added after a foul was called that led to Donovan Mitchell's game-winning free throw.
“Yeah, I’m not a referee,” Rubio said. “So I don’t know all the rules. But I think the last two minutes, you can check — especially the time runoff. Maybe it did, I need to watch the game again. He wasn’t really giving me an answer. But we didn’t lose because of that.”
As he pled his case, his former teammates began surrounding him. First Rudy Gobert came and shook his shoulders, then Joe Ingles came and put his arm around him. Then it was Georges Niang and Royce O’Neale greeting the point guard. Then Mitchell — whose shoes Rubio was wearing in a show of support — came up from behind and wrapped his arms around him.
“It’s always great to see him,” Gobert said. “He got us with his tricky layups, but I’m glad we got this win tonight.”
They all smiled. It was a reunion of players who fought together, lost together and won together. Heck, they even bled together.