Oklahoma City • On Monday afternoon as Carmelo Anthony dissected his team’s 116-108 win, he celebrated that the Thunder had managed to minimize Rudy Gobert’s impact.
How are they doing that?
“I can’t tell you that,” Anthony quipped. “I’m pretty sure Utah’s looking at these interviews.”
While Melo may zip his lips when it comes to the game plan, it’s no great secret. Oklahoma City’s offense in the series with the Jazz hinges on how effective Gobert can be. So they’ve taken pains to try to minimize his impact on defense and on the glass.
Gobert, by his standards, had a solid game statistically, with 14 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. But the Thunder’s shooting (14 for 29 on threes), particularly the way Paul George lit up beyond the arc, forced the Jazz to adjust defensively and opened up baskets inside down the stretch.
It was telling that three of Steven Adams’ four baskets (including a pair of alley-oops) came in the final five minutes of the game, as the Jazz defense had to guard the 3-point line more aggressively. With Utah more worried about kick-outs than looks at the rim, Adams was able to slip behind Gobert and finally do damage on offense.
More of a pack mentality was used on the glass, as Adams pulled in seven rebounds himself, but the Thunder managed to win the boards 46-42. Both Gobert and Adams focused on boxing out one another to let the guards snag rebounds: Russell Westbrook had 13, Donovan Mitchell had 10.
As Adams, one of the best rebounders in the NBA, explained, Gobert requires extra effort. Adams doesn’t just try to get position — he has to distance Gobert from the basket.
“Very big dude, long arms, so it’s not good enough just putting a body on him,” he said. “Just pushing him out, that’s my mindset.”
While the Thunder had success limiting Gobert’s influence, some of it came down to shot-making. Gobert couldn’t do as much to keep George from hitting eight 3-pointers, but George won’t hit eight 3-pointers every night.
The long-term key, coach Billy Donovan said, will be in running a crisp offense. He saw some signs of it on Sunday night, but he wants to see more.
“You have to be sharp with your passing. You have to screen. You have to execute,” he said. “You have to cut hard, timing of cuts, spacing. All those things are major, major factors. And there was times that we did those things at a really, really high level in a very, very positive way. But we gotta be more consistent with it.”