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Utah Jazz: From the locker room, Rudy Gobert adds to his case for Defensive Player of the Year

First Published      Last Updated Mar 12 2017 10:40 pm


Jazz » Defensive Player of the Year candidate was needed against OKC.

Rudy Gobert is one of the most feared rim protectors in the NBA.

The Stifle Tower's long arms have blocked a league-leading 162 shots this season and his presence in the paint is, without question, one of the biggest reasons the Utah Jazz enter the week in fourth place in a difficult Western Conference.

But in his campaign for the Defensive Player of the Year award, Gobert may have made one of his strongest cases of the year sitting in a locker room.

"We missed him, especially on the defensive end," shooting guard Alec Burks said after the Jazz's 112-104 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday afternoon. "Rudy is a game changer. Everybody knows that. So you miss him when he ain't out there."




Gobert had started in all 65 of his team's games before Saturday's matinee, but the 7-footer was a late scratch against the Thunder because of a leg injury. In his place, backup Jeff Withey made his first start of the season.

As it turns out, Gobert is pretty darn important to the Jazz's success.

Utah's offense suffered greatly without Gobert setting screens and rolling to the basket for buckets at the rim. The Jazz's defense, meanwhile, was almost unrecognizable.

The Jazz entered the afternoon with the NBA's third-ranked defense, allowing 101.8 points per 100 possessions. With Gobert sidelined, Utah's defense against OKC was about 14 points worse than usual over the course of 100 possessions, according to NBA.com.

It is, admittedly, the smallest of sample sizes. And the Jazz were also without starting power forward Derrick Favors, himself a solid defender, against a bruising Thunder frontline of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter.

"This was probably the worst game to miss both of them," Jazzman Joe Ingles said. "We needed one of them."

And Gobert, whom the Jazz signed to a $100-million extension earlier this season, is the anchor on defense.

Few squads cause opponents more trouble in the paint than Utah. Teams shoot 57 percent in the restricted area against the Jazz, according to the NBA's stats. And Gobert's impact in the paint is unmatched. No player in the league defends more shots at the rim (10.5 per game) than Gobert, according to SportVU, and opponents are converting there 43.2 percent of the time against him.

With Gobert sidelined, OKC looked at times like it was simply running a layup drill, en route to outscoring the Jazz 58-44 in the paint.

"I'm not surprised that they dominated the paint," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said when asked about Gobert's absence Saturday.

That absence caused problems for Utah, but it might actually help highlight Gobert's case for Defensive Player of the Year, as voters pick from among a field of candidates headlined by Golden State's Draymond Green, San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard and the Jazz's own French Rejection.

In the short term, things are looking up for Utah. Gobert was hurt Wednesday in Houston, when James Harden's knee collided with his right leg and the injury started to bother the Jazzman at the start of his warmup routine on Saturday.

Gobert was expected to undergo an MRI, though he was expected to be ready Monday against the Clippers.

"We want to be smart about everything," Snyder said, calling the decision to hold Gobert out "precautionary." "Hopefully it's nothing more than that."

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AT A GLANCE

Jazz vs. Clippers

At Vivint Smart Home Arena

Tipoff »  Monday, 7 p.m.

TV »  ROOT

Radio »  1280 AM, 97.5 FM

About the Jazz »  Hold a one-game lead over the Clippers for fourth place in the Western Conference. … Dante Exum scored a career-high 22 points in Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma City. … Are 11-16 on the season against teams with .500-or-better records.

About the Clippers »  Have not lost to the Jazz in Salt Lake City since January 2012. … Forward Blake Griffin leads the team in scoring at 21.7 points per game. … Center DeAndre Jordan leads the league in field goal percentage, converting a whopping 70.4 percent of his attempts.


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