Headed into Friday night’s match-up against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Utah Jazz found themselves smack dab in the middle of a five-game losing streak. In the end, the Jazz came out on top, but not in the way fans and players would’ve hoped.
Not only had the team lost five in a row to playoff-caliber franchises, but in each losing instance, the Jazz were positioned in the most favorable of basketball circumstances — key players were injured, opponents were fatigued and prior day trades meant that opposing rosters were depleted.
Which brings us to last night’s fixture against the Portland Trail Blazers:
- Hassan Whiteside missed the game with a lower left leg contusion.
- Anfernee Simons left the game upon slamming his head into the hardwood.
- Trevor Ariza was ejected after arguing with officials early in the second quarter.
The bulk of the Blazers’ minutes were chewed up by a mere seven players. CJ McCollum played 42 minutes. Damian Lillard played an astounding 43 minutes. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Carmelo Anthony gave Terry Stotts 38 minutes of embarrassingly (for real) pedestrian play.
In spite of this, come halftime, the Jazz had dug themselves a 14-point hole, having surrendered 72 first-half points to the short-handed Blazers.
The third quarter, however, would prove to be the Blazers’ undoing, as the Jazz stormed back with a 30-point effort, limiting the Blazers to a lousy 17 points on 28 percent shooting from the floor and 12.5 percent shooting from deep.
To anybody who watched, it became clear that the Blazers’ legs and arms were spent.
Shots fell short. Offensive possessions turned into exercises in isolation with either Lillard or McCollum standing off in the corner to catch their breath while the other orchestrated a one-on-five offense.
It was painful (and exhausting) to watch, really.
Still, come the closing seconds of the game, things were tight.
With Portland down two after a clutch layup by Donovan Mitchell with only 20 seconds left on the clock, the Blazers had a chance to either tie the game or go for the win with a three on the road in Salt Lake City.
Out of the inbounds, Lillard (shocker) took the ball deep on the Blazers’ side of the court. Joe Ingles picked him up at half-court. As Rudy Gobert came to help, he split the pair and met Royce O’Neale at the rim in an attempt to (potentially) send the game into overtime with a layup.
In classic Gobert fashion, however, being initially beaten on the perimeter meant little …
Here’s what happened next:
It was goaltending.
Even worse, it was really bad goaltending.
You know, the kind of goaltending that the naked eye could spot from the International Space Station. Heck, without any kind of trade or free agency news to speak of, even the great Adrian Wojnorawski chimed in on Twitter about how painfully obvious of a goaltend this really was:
Yet, for some odd reason, the three officials assigned to this game were unable to see the ball bounce off the backboard before making clear-cut contact with Gobert’s hand.
What makes this even harder to believe is that, given the impact of this single play on the game’s outcome, all six eyeballs should’ve been focused on one thing and one thing alone — Lillard’s play at the rim.
Hard to believe? Yes.
A logical ruling, though? To a certain extent, also yes.
Allow me to explain …
Gobert is a defensive force unlike any the league has ever seen.
As if winning Defensive Player of the Year the past two seasons wasn’t enough for Gobert’s detractors, this year alone he’s ranked in the top five in defensive rebounds (526), defensive rebounding percentage (32.3), defensive win shares (3.4) and defensive box plus-minus (4.0).
Given Gobert’s individual impact on a game, however, most impressive of all might be the 97 blocks he’s accumulated through 51 games of regular season play. That’s good enough for the fourth-most blocks in the league behind Hassan Whiteside, Brook Lopez and Anthony Davis.
The biggest difference between them and Gobert, though?
Unlike any other, Gobert owns the paint — he doesn’t see many solid block opportunities, in all reality. Game after game, you don’t need the basketball IQ of Gregg Popovich to see smaller, more agile guards make their way to the basket, only to quickly circle back or dish the ball to an outside shooter — it’s just easier (and more successful) than trying to score over Gobert.
And the come-from-behind blocks …
Mercy, they’ve played a big role in a number of Utah Jazz victories this year.
Listen, the point is this:
Regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of Gobert and his style of play, last night, the officials were more than aware of what he can do on the defensive side of the basketball court — they’ve seen him do it game after game; though incorrect, they thought they’d saw him do it again.
The mistake was inexcusable; given Gobert’s dominance, the mistake was understandable.
Either way, the losing streak is over.
The Utah Jazz will take on the Houston Rockets tomorrow at 5 p.m. MST at the Toyota Center.