SALT LAKE CITY — Rudy Gobert wasn’t wearing a light beige-colored hunting hat with an accompanying vest at EnergySolutions Arena Monday Night. He wasn’t dressed in khaki shorts or safari boots either, and not once did he yell, "Shoot Her!” during Utah's 94-79 loss to Toronto.
However, with Derrick Favors inactive and Enes Kanter ineffective, Gobert was Utah’s equivalent of Jurassic Park’s Robert Muldoon in hunting down — or at least slowing down — the Raptors.
“He tried to play hard,” Jazz coach Ty Corbin said of the 7-foot-1 rookie center. “He was big inside, which you want. He blocked the rim and held the middle down for us for the most part. He was trying to do the right thing for us.”
Gobert’s impact, specifically on the offensive end, wasn’t exactly measurable — in fact, it was virtually unnoticeable statistically. In a career-high 31 minutes, he failed to score with eight rebounds, one assist and three blocked shots. But more importantly, he finished with a positive plus-minus ratio.
With 4:33 remaining in the first quarter, Corbin benched Kanter in favor of Gobert in an attempt to challenge Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas, who scored eight quick points on his first five attempts. Ultimately, Gobert’s length forced the Raptors to experiment with a smaller lineup after the Jazz ended the quarter on a 16-7 run for a three-point advantage.
“Whatever it was Enes didn’t have the energy; Valanciunas got going early on him and made some easy shots,” Corbins said. “I thought Rudy did a better job on the big guy and controlling the paint for us.”
Kanter chipped in 10 points in nearly 20 minutes of action, but — unlike Gobert — he finished with a minus-19 ratio.
Gobert returned with 3:13 left in the second quarter with the Jazz down 45-37 and re-energized the team with a two-handed rejection at the rim on his first defensive series. Then, down 49-40, he kept Trey Burke’s missed corner 3 alive by tipping it to Marvin Williams for an uncontested layup.
“It would have been better to win, but it felt good to be on the floor,” Gobert said. “ I just tried to win and help the team. I tried to protect the paint and offensively to get myself open on the drive.”
As expected, Gobert made several mistakes — prematurely rolling before setting the screen properly, elevating too soon for a dunk, and lazily inbounding without noticing a defender doubling back for an easy steal.
Yet, he compensated for his shortcomings with energy and hustle. Early in the third quarter, with Utah down 59-46, he established deep position on the interior block, shielding the defender and allowing Williams to throw down a two-handed flush. Then, at 9:38 in the fourth quarter, Gobert’s rejection initiated a fast-break opportunity for Alec Burks, who completed an and-one layup to pull the Jazz within three, 73-70.
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