“I didn’t need to be anybody else, I just needed to be myself and be aggressive,” said Burks, who scored a career-high 34 points to spark the Utah Jazz to a 118-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.
Derrick Favors added 19 points and 15 rebounds while Trey Burke had 18 points for the Jazz, who won their fifth game in the last six home starts.
Burks was filling in for Gordon Hayward, who sat out his second consecutive game after scoring a career-high 37 points - including the last 17 - in a win over Oklahoma City last Tuesday. The swingman strained his left hip flexor late in the game and his absence was apparent as Cleveland snapped Utah’s four-game home winning streak on Friday, 113-102.
But Burks made his presence felt from the start and had 17 in the first half to help the Jazz run out to a 67-53 lead, the highest first-half total for the Jazz this season.
“I was just trying to get to the rim and put some pressure on them,” Burks said.
His teammates noticed his determination to get into the lane and that led to other open shots.
“He came out and established himself from the get-go. He put a ton of pressure on their defense to collapse and try and stop him from scoring,” Marvin Williams said.
Ty Lawson had 23 points and J.J. Hickson scored 21 but the Nuggets trailed by as many as 24 points as they saw their improbable five-game winning streak come to an end.
Burks wowed the crowd with a number of athletic drives to the hoop and several of his forays ended in a basket and a free throw. The Nuggets threw a number of defenders at the slippery Jazz guard but none could stay in front of him.
“Some of the shots, I don’t know how they went in. Alec said he missed a bunch of layups and I told him, ‘You made a bunch of crazy layups.’” Richard Jefferson said. “His ability to finish in traffic and his size and the way he can handle the ball is unique.”
The third-year guard helped the Jazz score a season-high 64 points in the paint and kept his defenders on their heels.
“With more opportunity, I am a wiser player now,” Burks said. “I know now what everybody’s going to do now, how they are going to play defense against me.”
It was Burks‘ most potent offensive performance since he posted his previous career-best of 31 points in Miami on Dec. 16. But that was in a blowout loss.