Houston • Partly because of his foul trouble during a critical stretch of a game the Jazz eventually lost, Utah center Rudy Gobert may have been the unofficial MVP of the team’s first-round playoff series vs. Oklahoma City, even given Donovan Mitchell’s exploits.
But Gobert was far less effective Sunday in the Jazz’s 110-96 loss to Houston in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Gobert finished with 11 points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes. Yet those numbers were aided considerably by a fourth-quarter push of nine points and four rebounds, when Houston led comfortably, and he didn’t block any shots. In the previous series against Oklahoma City, Gobert averaged 14.0 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game.
Through three quarters Sunday, Gobert did not have a field-goal attempt. Explanations exist for his reduced statistics, but the Jazz need more from him offensively and defensively in upcoming games.
His teammates’ play is part of the story behind Gobert’s reduced impact for much of the game, according to coach Quin Snyder, and so is that Houston’s offense is built around 3-point shooting. In the Jazz’s switching scheme, Gobert often found himself outside, guarding James Harden or Chris Paul with mixed results.
Snyder pointed to the Jazz’s perimeter defense as an initial cause of some problems, with Harden driving to the basket and forcing Gobert to make choices. If Gobert helped, Harden passed the ball. Gobert also found himself out of rebounding position at times, because of others’ mistakes.
That’s partly why Houston center Clint Capela was able to statistically outplay Gobert, with 16 points and 12 rebounds — including four offensive boards. Capela had missed the Rockets’ last regular-season victory over the Jazz in late February with an injury.
“We were breaking down at one point in that chain too frequently,” Snyder said.
Offensively, the absence of point guard Ricky Rubio due to a hamstring injury was noticeable early in the game. Other players had trouble creating opportunities for Gobert, who finished well around the rim against Oklahoma City.
“We weren’t making the right decision,” Snyder said, “and we were too slow in making whatever decision we were making.”
As Gobert likes to say, “Every game is different.” The Jazz hope that’s true for him in Wednesday’s Game 2.