Rudy Gobert says his secret to healing quickly is simple: “I’m not human.”
That’s one theory.
Whatever you believe about how the 25-year-old center sped up a four-to-six-week rehabilitation process from a scary-looking collision last month, he looked very much himself in his return to action for the first time after missing 11 games.
While limited offensively and sporting a brace on his right knee, Gobert was able to grab 10 rebounds and block two shots playing on a minutes restriction. He was physical, and helped hold Washington center Marcin Gortat to no points on four shot attempts.
But the biggest difference for Gobert is the team he returns to: Since his absence, the team (13-11) has matured into a group that has now won six straight games. The latest, a 116-69 bashing of the Washington Wizards, was a proud chapter for Gobert in his Utah tenure.
“Defensively, I think that’s one of the best games we’ve played since I’ve been here,” he said with a smile. “Guys have really started to take defense really personal, and everyone’s gotten better defensively. Now that I’m back, we get that level even better than it’s ever been.”
It was: The Jazz held the Wizards to season lows in points (69) and shooting (28.7 percent). After allowing back-to-back 15-point quarters to start the game, the Jazz let back a little in the third quarter, in which they only outscored Washington by two points. But in the fourth quarter, the team went on a run powered by Alec Burks.
Gobert said he’s also been impressed by the ball movement in Utah’s now top-10 offense. The Jazz have had 23 assists or more during every win of the streak, and Gobert got in on the action himself with three dimes.
“I think that’s the thing that’s improved the most,” he said. “That’s the team we want to be. We want to be unselfish, and the team you don’t know who is going to score.”
As his team went 7-4 without him in the starting lineup and began turning things around in late Novemeber, Gobert itched to return to the floor. He said he wanted to return last Friday against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Regardless, he was warming up before games as if he was preparing to play. Coach Quin Snyder took note of Gobert’s work ethic, and was pleased to welcome him back to the group.
“The biggest thing he’s back playing,” Snyder said. “There’s always going to be some rust, but he looked like he was in a good place mentally and trying to play the right way within the team.”
There’s larger questions for the Jazz about how the team plays Gobert alongside Derrick Favors, or even if they attempt it at all. But for Monday, Gobert was content to be back on the floor and surrounded by a team that looks better than the one he left. He said of his bone-bruised right leg: “It feels great — I could play another game.”
Good news for the Jazz: There’s one Tuesday night.