There was plenty that went wrong for the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night in Boston: Roughly a million first-quarter turnovers, another rough stretch on the defensive glass, the continuing struggles of a certain Croatian sharpshooter …
But just enough went right to make up for it.
Like, say, Jordan Clarkson going all flamethrower mode in the second quarter to ignite the offense, Donovan Mitchell shrugging off a shaky game with some timely, dagger 3s in the waning minutes …
Oh, and Rudy Gobert absolutely annihilating everyone and everything down the stretch.
There are still plenty of questions ahead for the Jazz, but on this occasion, they answered enough of them right to pull off a 117-109 victory in Boston.
The two-time All-Star racked up 16 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks for the game, and was a driving force in pulling out the victory — notching a mind-boggling plus-16 plus/minus in the fourth period alone, in part thanks to a 4-for-4 effort at the stripe in the final minute.
“One of the things, when we talk about Rudy, is his activity, his ability to do multiple things on defense and to make multiple-effort plays‚” coach Quin Snyder said of his center’s impact. “And when we’re solid — the other four guys who are on the court — he has a chance to be even more impactful.”
Gobert’s stretch of dominance began with about 10 minutes to go, when he found himself isolated at the 3-point line against Celtics All-Star wing Jaylen Brown.
Brown accelerated into the paint, taking the big man baseline before getting cut off, pump faking, then trying to loft up a layup try — which Gobert swatted away.
The big man then ran the court and leapt for and threw down a perfectly tossed alley-oop from reserve forward Georges Niang.
On the Celtics’ next possession, Kemba Walker missed a 3, and Gobert snagged the rebound. After the Jazz moved the ball around, he ultimately filled the lane again, grabbed a no-look bounce pass from Clarkson, absorbed some contact, and threw down a purposeful, two-handed dunk on Daniel Theis’ head, before converting the and-one.
“Rudy’s a pretty big target,” Clarkson noted with a smile. “I’ve had a chance to build this relationship with him. He’s coming to me every timeout, telling me what the reads are — us having an open dialogue makes everything easier. And if I ever get in trouble, I know I can just throw it to the moon; he’s like 7-3.”
Gobert racked up 11 points, six rebounds, and two blocks in the final period alone, and admitted afterward he was much better late than he was early, noting that he and his teammates made it a point to dial up the physicality.
Meanwhile, even though he’s now racked up 20 combined blocks in the Jazz’s past five games, he said he’s trying to remain focused on doing the right things, not on padding his stats.
“The funny thing is, I don’t want to chase blocks. Some games, I might get seven blocks, six blocks, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily played better defense. Some games, I get zero blocks and I played great defense because those guys are not even getting shots up around me,” he said. “… I’m just going to keep being active, keep making sure I make the right decisions, and if guys are going to keep challenging me, I’m going to be there to block their shots.”
Mitchell, for one, saw his teammate do plenty of that down the stretch against the Celtics.
While it was two late 3s from the guard that ultimately finished Boston off for good, he said it was the play of his big man that got the Jazz to that point.
“He just set a tone in the fourth. He knows when it’s his time, on the defensive end especially. In the beginning of the game, he was kind of indecisive — we all were. And then with him, you saw late, he blocked that shot, sprinted the floor, and got a dunk. That’s the epitome of what we want him to do,” Mitchell said. “… He put his mind to it. He saw it, he knows it, and he went out there and did it. He took it to another level in the fourth.”
Now Gobert wants to see the Jazz take it to another level defensively.
Even as the team continues to gain eyeballs nationally as a result of their prolific 3-point attack (19 more made against the Celtics), he maintains that it’s the team’s performance on the other end of the court that will ultimately determine how successful they are.
“Tonight, I really felt like we locked in defensively. And, you know, it’s a great game to build on. That’s the team we want to be,” Gobert said. “We know that on nights when maybe we don’t make as many 3s, if you don’t play defense, it’s a little harder for us to win. And when we play defense, we get in a position to win every night. And when it’s playoff time, we know that the defense is going to be the key for us to get where we want to go.”