SALT LAKE CITY — The game was 12 seconds old when Dante Exum lobbed a pass toward the rim and Rudy Gobert, the 7-1 center for the Utah Jazz, slammed it through for a dunk.
The Jazz did that over and over and over Saturday night, building a 46-point lead en route to a 129-97 victory.
The Knicks trailed by 37 at halftime, and only a last-second 35-footer by Tim Hardaway Jr. prevented it from being the franchise’s largest halftime deficit in the shot clock era. And did we mention the Jazz were missing two starters?
The Knicks (9-28), already mired in a slide toward the NBA’s worst record, put on one of their ugliest performances of the season. It was their seventh straight loss and 12th in the last 13, and a disheartening defeat in a season filled with them.
They fell behind 118-72, threatening the worst losses in franchise history. The all-time worst was a 62-point loss to Syracuse on Christmas Day in 1960, and there was a 50-point loss to Dallas on Jan. 24, 2010.
Asked what happened at the start, Knicks coach David Fizdale said, “Force. They came out with force. We came out dead. We just had no legs, no life, nothing. Couldn’t make shots. Couldn’t get stops. It was just a total avalanche.”
While the Jazz may be better than the 17-19 record they brought into the game, they were without Ricky Rubio and Jae Crowder. This was the lone game on the Knicks’ trip against a team with a sub-.500 record, with contests remaining against the Nuggets (23-11), Lakers (20-16), Trail Blazers (20-16) and Warriors (24-13). The Knicks are tied with the Suns for the worst record in the league and are one game better than the Cavaliers.
Fizdale had spent the last two days talking about how much he wanted to see Luke Kornet — whom he installed as the starting center Thursday — face off against Gobert.
The result? By halftime, Gobert — whose range extends to about an inch from the rim — had shot 10-for-11 from the floor, piling up 24 points and 13 rebounds (he finished with 25 and 16). Kornet, who shot 7-for-11 from three-point range and had 23 points Thursday, had 14 points and shot 5-for-11 against the Jazz. Twelve of those 14 points came in the fourth quarter, when Gobert already had called it a night.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Enes Kanter, who shot 0-for-6 on a scoreless night off the bench. “It doesn’t matter if we’re on the road or we’re at home. We’re down by like 40 or 50. It’s very embarrassing.”
Exum, starting in place of Rubio, easily made his way through the Knicks’ porous defense, handing out 13 assists and scoring 13 points. Jazz star Donovan Mitchell had a quiet game, scoring 15 points in 27 minutes.
Hardaway had 18 points for the Knicks. Emmanuel Mudiay left in the third quarter with what the Knicks are calling a mild ankle sprain and did not return. He finished with 13 points and five assists in 23 minutes.
The Knicks hoped Kornet’s basketball smarts would help solidify the defense. Instead, they showed nothing, drawing the ire of assistant coaches Kaleb Canales and Keith Smart, who delivered a heated message at halftime.
“They went off on them pretty good and got after them,” Fizdale said. “Through trust and a lot of love, I think those guys had a right to go off on them, and the guys responded. I just tried to make some tweaks, get us regrouped. I was happy with the way we came out and played the second half.”
But taking credit for winning the second half is small consolation, given that the Jazz were pulling their starters midway through the third quarter.