On Friday, Vivint Smart Home Arena erupted when Rudy Gobert checked in for the fourth quarter.
Minutes earlier, the 7-foot-1 French center had been on the court grabbing his leg, after Dion Waiters had spilled into it, ostensibly trying to recover a loose ball. Gobert’s return signified that all was well after the scary collision.
Only it wasn’t.
After passing injury protocol on Friday night and returning to the game against the Heat, Gobert was icing his right leg postgame and told reporters he felt relatively fine. But by Saturday, he was showing additional symptoms that convinced the Jazz he needed an MRI. That revealed a bone bruise in his right tibia that will keep him out for at least the next four weeks.
While the Jazz will miss their All-NBA center, who was averaging 13.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and a league-leading 2.5 blocks, coach Quin Snyder said the team is prepared to soldier on.
Timberwolves at Jazz
When • Monday, 7 p.m.
TV • ATTSN
“Everybody knows Rudy is a high, high-level player,” he said. “He anchors our defense in many ways. Our margin for error gets a little bit slimmer. Our team will adjust. That’s all you can do.”
Utah will be without the defender who led the league in blocked shots (214) last season and who led the NBA through 12 games this year. With Gobert on the court, opponents’ 2-point shooting drops from 50 percent to 47 percent.
The Jazz are coming off a game without Gobert in which Favors reached season highs in points (24) and rebounds (12). Healthy for the first time in more than a season, Favors has been seeking a return to form when he averaged better than 16 points, 8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks from 2014 to 2016.
Snyder said it’s familiar territory for Favors, who made starts at center in last year’s playoffs while Gobert was injured against the Clippers. Favors seemed eager to tackle the role.
“I’m excited about it: It’s a new challenge for me,” he said. “I get to be a big part of the offense now, and a big part of the defense too. It’s a big responsibility, but I’m ready for it.”
The Jazz are entering a five-game stretch in which they’ll face an onslaught of talented, young big men, starting with Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves at home on Monday night. Then comes a four-game road trip, during which they’ll also take on New York’s Kristaps Porzingis, Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid. All four average better than 17 points per game.
“He’s one of the the best defensive players in the league, but we’ve got players who can do it,” Jonas Jerebko said. “Until Rudy gets back, we’ve just got to take care of business.”
Utah is also awaiting word on Joe Johnson, who has missed the past two weeks with a wrist injury. He will be reevaluated on Tuesday and travel with the team to New York in hopes of returning.
In terms of recovery, Snyder said he wasn’t worried: Gobert isn’t at any risk of further complicating the injury. And while it may undercut Gobert’s goals to become the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Snyder expects that’s not what will drive Gobert to make a swift return to full health.
“One of the things that makes Rudy unique is that all those things are secondary to winning,” he said. “He’s not thinking I’ve got to get back so I can win this award, make this team, get this recognition. He’s thinking I want to get back because I want to help my team.”
Snyder plays down importance of starting
In nearly the same breath Snyder told the media pregame that Jonas Jerebko was making his first start for the Jazz, he told a story about why he didn’t see it as an important fact.
When he was coaching the Austin D-fenders in the D League, he once started five point guards just to show his team that the starting lineup held no more meaning than any other lineup.
Jerebko started, Snyder said, because of a matchup with Taj Gibson, a larger more traditional power forward. But as the Jazz move pieces around and try to find good matchups game-by-game without Gobert, he said that overanalyzing starters might be counterproductive.
“Oftentimes, we can’t keep moving things around and thinking about it and overanalyzing it because it doesn’t give guys a chance,” he said. “I’d much rather have our guys play with confidence. That to me is the most important thing about who’s out there.”
The Timberwolves-Jazz matchup has several college connections: Both Rodney Hood and Tyus Jones played collegiately for the Blue Devils. Gorgui Dieng and Donovan Mitchell both played at Louisville. Derrick Favors and Marcus Georges-Hunt both played at Georgia Tech.