SALT LAKE CITY — Ricky Rubio is often mild-mannered in the spotlight, but after the Utah Jazz’s Game 2 loss in Houston on Wednesday, the Spanish floor general displayed a more combative disposition.
Part of it was falling behind 0-2 in Utah’s first-round series against Houston, but more than anything it was the way they dropped both games — by 32 points in Game 1, then 20 in Game 2.
“It’s hard, but I’m not going to quit and we’re not going to quit,” Rubio said of guarding Rockets star James Harden. “We’re going to keep playing, giving him different looks.”
Even with a couple days of game planning for Game 3 at Vivint Arena, Rubio’s more intense mindset continued as his teammates also grew frustrated with their first two performances.
“We can win or lose a game, but I think it’s our mentality,” Rubio explained following Saturday’s shootaround. “The approach that we play the game, I think we lost the game in the first two minutes. It’s not about scoring or not, it’s about willing. We didn’t show who we are, and I think everybody senses that.”
Rubio averaged 16.0 points, 7.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds on 42 percent shooting in the first two games of the Rockets series, but more importantly has been the primary defender on Harden.
The reigning MVP went off for his third playoff career triple-double in Game 2 with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, where Rubio defended him for a team-high 26 possessions and Harden went 4-for-7 to score 10 points. But Rubio didn’t back down.
“I know you see it all over social media with him falling or whatever, but you don’t understand that 99 percent of the people would be scared to guard (Harden),” said Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell. “People don’t understand that and that’s why I have a lot of respect for Ricky, Royce (O’Neale), Thabo (Sefolosha), Jae (Crowder) … we’re not afraid. Everybody out here is making it seem like it’s a big deal, no, we’ve got the confidence to guard him.”
Although it’s only Rubio’s second career playoff run, the Jazz point guard says he’s noticed a different level of intensity within this year’s Rockets team that even Utah players can learn from.
“They have a mentality to win a championship and you can tell,” Rubio admitted. “You can tell the way they’re playing. You can tell the way they approach every play. They’re not focused on just this series, they’re focusing on the moment but for a bigger thing and that’s the thing that we have to learn.
“We have to watch them play and then learn it. This is a championship team,” he continued. “They went to a Game 7 last year in the Western Conference Finals and you can tell they want more. Us, we went to the second round and it seems like we were cool, no. We’re cool, we want more.
“And I know, I trust all my teammates and I trust myself, too,” he added. “Sometimes when you’re fatigued, you’ve got to believe what you’re doing, and we put a lot of work in this season just to come to this moment and show what we’re capable of doing. We haven’t showed it in the first two games but I'm sure we will do it.”