Late Sunday night, Rudy Gobert became just the latest European athlete trying to bait a referee into issuing a yellow card.
Despite fouling out of Game 1 of the Utah Jazz’s first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies after a mere 24 minutes, 59 seconds of game time, the presumptive Defensive Player of the Year award-winner nevertheless attempted to still exert some impact upon the ultimate outcome.
When Gobert’s backup, Derrick Favors, threw down a dunk with a minute and 34 seconds to play, and drew a foul from the Grizzlies’ Kyle Anderson besides, the exultant Frenchman stalked the end line, approached Anderson, absorbed a light, two-handed push from the Memphis wing, and went absolutely flying — pirouetting down to the court.
His flop from the (allegedly) massive blow did not generate the desired outcome of fooling the referees into assessing a technical foul and giving the Jazz what would have been a critical free throw. It did, however, have the effect of turning Gobert into a social media meme afterward.
Rudy Gobert flop pic.twitter.com/2I9znficUN
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) May 24, 2021
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) May 24, 2021
“Flopping in the NBA isn’t anything new, but this feels like Gobert is breaking some new ground by doing it while he’s not even in the game,” Robby Kalland wrote for the pop culture and entertainment aggregating website Uproxx. “The man is fouled out and still manages to flail to the ground. For a player who isn’t exactly well beloved around the country, Gobert’s not really helping his image with this incredible flop while not even playing.”
Thing is, Gobert wasn’t thinking about his image, but his impact.
Specifically, how he felt as though he’d been denied the opportunity to have much of one in the game. The flop was the culmination of a night’s worth of perceived injustices, the embodiment of his inability to change the outcome of an eventual 112-109 defeat.
Afterward, in speaking with the media, Gobert didn’t address that specific play, but spoke to a mood of general frustration, highlighted by his view that inconsistent officiating from the referee crew of James Capers, Ken Mauer, and Dedric Taylor left him confused and agitated, and ultimately diminished his efficacy.
“It was hard for me to try to figure out what kind of game they were calling,” Gobert said, his annoyance palpable. “Early in the game, they were allowing us to play physical, and then at some point they hit me with two quick ones on rebounds when [Jonas] Valanciunas was doing the exact same thing. So it’s kind of hard for me to find ways to just get into the game when I don’t really know if I should play physical, or if I should sell it well when he pushes me — but then they don’t call it. It was hard for me to know the way to play the game. It kind of threw me off a little bit.”
The two fouls he referenced came a mere 12 seconds apart in the early minutes of the third quarter.
The first occurred at the 9:15 mark, when he blocked a shot by Anderson, then the Grizzlies player grabbed the rebound, fired up another shot, fell backward, and Mauer blew his whistle. At 9:03, Utah’s Royce O’Neale launched a 3, Gobert and Valanciunas jostled for rebounding position, the latter grabbed the ball as the former fell forward, and Mauer blew his whistle again.
Gobert had just picked up his fourth foul, headed to the bench, and would not return until the beginning of the fourth quarter.
He was productive in his time on the court — totaling 11 points (on 4 of 4 shooting), 15 rebounds, and three blocks — but acknowledged afterward that he and his teammates lost their composure at times.
“I think we got a few moments when we were distracted, disconnected. I think we let some of the calls affect us — all the little things that we’ve got to we got to put aside,” he said.
Indeed, it was not merely the officiating that seemed to agitate the Jazz, but also the aggressiveness and antics of the Grizzlies. Dillon Brooks lightly head-butted his former Memphis teammate, Mike Conley. Anderson and Ja Morant at one point ventured over to the Jazz bench, exchanging words that resulted in Utah rookie Trent Forrest being issued a technical for leaving the sideline. Georges Niang was likewise T’d up at the end of the third quarter after getting into it with Grizzlies rookie Desmond Bane.
Conley didn’t make too much of any of the incidents individually, chalking up the chirping and amped-up attitudes to “playoff basketball.” However, he did add that they also served a dual purpose of suckering the Jazz into “distractions that we don’t we don’t necessarily need to get involved in.
“We’re a team that we pride ourselves on just being a well-oiled machine that is going to run regardless of the situation,” he elaborated. “If teams get physical, we get physical back, and we just continue to run our offense and play our defense and keep it moving. But we cannot let that kind of stuff muddy up the game, because they’re gonna throw everything at you, and that’s another way they try to dictate how we play.”
For Game 2 on Wednesday, the Jazz have vowed to do less worrying about the refs’ calls (or lack thereof), less reacting to Memphis’ baiting, and to be more focused on simply playing their own game.
“Every time they score, they’re talking, and we know that’s the way they like to play, so we can’t let that affect us,” Gobert said.
Certainly not to the point of flopping while out of the game, anyway.