The Triple Team: Rudy Gobert shuts down OKC; Jarrell Brantley gets his chance

(Rick Bowmer | AP) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell shoots as Oklahoma City Thunder guard Ty Jerome defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 106-96 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Bad players attacking Rudy Gobert = bad offense

The Thunder took 23 shots within four feet of the rim tonight. They only made nine. In other words, they shot 39% on layups and dunks.

It’s not too terribly difficult to figure out why this occurred. It’s because Rudy Gobert is a very good rim protector. When you add that together with the Thunder’s NBA players essentially being at the level of a G-League All-Star team, you get a lot of clueless collisions at the rim; collisions that Gobert is going to win really often.

Here’s all of Gobert’s seven blocks tonight.

The bad news: the NBA’s video website isn’t working tonight, so I have to show you only clips on YouTube and put together by the Jazz’s twitter account. Hopefully it’s a one-night issue!

The good news: seeing things from this more zoomed-in angle show really well the athleticism Gobert truly has — his arm snaps out like a chameleon’s tongue while getting some of these blocks.

Like, freeze frame. Does it look like Gobert is going to get this block?

Rudy Gobert blocks this shot. Somehow.

No! Not even close! This little four second video also shows his vertical speed: Roby pumpfakes, thinks he’s gotten Gobert, and he just jumps again and snaps that arm up to block the shot. Scarily easily, too.

It’s just fun to watch. Look, attacking Gobert in this manner really does require a lack of imagination, and there’s a reason that his big block nights this season have come against the Thunder and Bulls. It’s like those videos of NBA players swatting little kids’ shots into oblivion at basketball camps — giggle-inducing due to physical dominance.

2. Phew! It’s time for all of two days off!

Look, my job is very, very easy. I go to Jazz games and write about them. Recently, I’ve been writing COVID articles too. It’s basically a whole lot of sitting, talking, and typing — coal mining it ain’t. And yet, I am actually tired from the last stretch, with five games in seven days. It’s just mentally repetitive.

When I talk to the Jazz’s players, coaches, and staff members... well, if I’m tired, they’re exhausted. Regardless of whether or not the games are hard or easy, they still all involve digesting game film, getting to the arena 2-3 hours early, getting shots up, getting physical training work done, and then athletically achieving at the highest level. Doing that five times in seven days is really taxing, both emotionally and physically.

You can see it on the court, too: in the iffy transition defense played, in the hands on players’ knees, that it takes them a little bit of extra time to get up off the floor when they go down. Honestly, you see it in the speed of decision making — Quin Snyder’s desired 0.5 second decisions are sometimes more like 1.5 seconds these days.

My beat partner Eric Walden has a good article today about how the Jazz plan on balancing rest and the quest for the No. 1 seed. I’d throw in two other factoids:

1) even after losing three of the last six games, the Jazz are still projected to win the Western Conference by four whole games in 538′s estimation.

2) The Lakers have not struggled as much as expected without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and with Denver perhaps more likely to falter, look like real favorites to get the No. 4 or No. 5 seeds. If the Jazz stay at No. 1, there’s a really good chance they’ll have to play the Lakers in the second round.

In other words: yeah, just rest guys! As I wrote about this weekend, the incentive to get the No. 1 seed is pretty small. Much more important would be coming into the playoffs fresh and at 100%. So it’s probably optimal to do whatever it takes to get ready for that, including resting a few guys in games like tonight’s.

3. Jarrell Brantley, impressing when given the opportunity

Yesterday, I wrote about how Miye Oni, Matt Thomas, and Trent Forrest didn’t impress when given the opportunity to play rotation minutes. Given that, Quin Snyder put two new names into the rotation given the absence of Royce O’Neale, Joe Ingles, and Jordan Clarkson: Ersan Ilyasova and Jarrell Brantley.

Ilyasova didn’t do much, and I think it’s fair to say Oni and Thomas disappointed again.

Jarrell Brantley did not disappoint. On one end, he played within the flow of the offense, making four of his five shots. This is the basket that made the highlight reels.

But I was most impressed with the defensive and rebounding efforts — I don’t think it’s a huge coincidence that Lu Dort struggled more when Brantley came into the game. Brantley’s not super tall, but he is long and big, and can jump in traffic. I thought, for his standards, he navigated screens well and stayed with his assigned man.

Quin Snyder seemed to as well: Miye Oni didn’t play in the second half, and Brantley took his minutes. We asked the team if Oni had any injuries that caused the change, and didn’t hear back, a relatively good sign that it was just a coach’s decision.

“Jarrell got an opportunity tonight and came in with a defensive mindset, and was able to impact the game,” Snyder wrapped it up after the game.

“I think I take pride in my defense — I don’t want the offensive player to score on me. That’s just kind of how I was brought up. So it’s special to be in that position and especially to have my teammates and coaches trusting me with that role and with that task,” Brantley said.

The next step is obviously to do it against opponents of higher caliber — OKC’s lineup was G-League level, and we already know Brantley’s a G-League All-Star. But thanks to his performance today, it looks like he’ll get that chance when the Jazz rest guys down the stretch.

Brantley, by the was, was just beaming after the game. He walked into the press room saying, “¿Cómo están, everybody?” He smiled the whole press conference. He talked about all of the work he put in to be able to be ready for this moment. And then he wrapped up his interview by saying,

“And, you know, it’s amazing. These moments are amazing. Today was amazing. So I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but today was amazing.”

Jazz PR told him the interview was over — after five minutes, there were no more questions. Brantley lingered; he didn’t want the moment to end.