SALT LAKE CITY — It started with a dubious foul call on the opening tipoff of all things. Then less than three minutes later, Rudy Gobert was whistled with his second foul for pushing away James Harden near the Jazz basket.
As a frustrated Gobert exited the floor, he swiped a paper cup off the scorer’s table sending it flying onto the floor and was not only whistled for a technical foul but was ejected from the game.
Just like that, at the 9:13 mark of the opening quarter, the reigning NBA defensive player of the year was on his way to the showers, the earliest NBA ejection in at least 15 years according to ESPN.
At the time, it appeared to be a tremendous advantage for the Rockets not to have to contend with the inside presence of Gobert, but instead it turned out to be just the opposite.
The ejection seemed to light a fire under the Jazz, who immediately showed extra intensity on the floor as they quickly took a double-digit lead that expanded to 35 points by the end of the third quarter. Derrick Favors stepped up in Gobert’s absence with perhaps his best performance of the season with 24 points and 10 rebounds as the Jazz coasted to a 118-91 victory.
The immediate reaction by media folks and others was that Gobert was being punished by the officials for some comments he made last week after the two-point loss to Miami when Gobert was called for a personal foul against Dwyane Wade with 3.2 seconds left in the game. For his criticism of the officials, Gobert was fined $15,000.
"I just want it to be consistent at one point," Gobert said last week. "Every night is the same (expletive). If you call something one way, you've got to call it the other way. Once they start doing that, I'm going to have a little more respect.
"I'm just tired of it,” Gobert continued. “Every game is the same. We are a small market and we know it, but they've got to be more consistent. It's not even personal. They're doing their job. We all make mistakes. I make mistakes. Tonight we made a lot of mistakes and we could have won this game anyway, but we can't be deciding the issue of a game just like that."
Although Gobert may be the most mild-mannered Jazz player off the court, he’s the most competitive on it. He’s led the team in technical fouls most years since he’s been in Utah and last year had eight technical fouls, which was tied for 20th most in the league.
This year he had two of the team’s 14 technical fouls going into Thursday’s game, which trailed teammate Jae Crowder, who had three.
The one positive for the Jazz that came out of Gobert’s ejection was that it got the sold-out crowd at Vivint Arena into a frenzy that didn’t let up for most of the night as most calls against the Jazz were met with a flurry of boos. It also gave Favors a chance to shine at the center position and he received a standing ovation when he left the floor early in the fourth quarter.
Afterwards, Gobert said he could never remember a foul being called on the opening tipoff and wouldn't speculate on whether his comments from last week had anything to do with his early fouls.
"I just came in to try to basketball and I had a stupid reaction," he said. "I think I can blame myself more than anything. It was just frustration. I've got to be smarter. It didn't cost the team tonight, but it can cost the team, losing me in the first quarter. It isn't the smartest thing to do."
NBA referee Tom Washington repsonded to a couple of questions from a pool reporter after the game about Gobert.14 comments on this story
About the foul on the opening tip, he said, "During the jump ball Rudy Gobert grabs the arm of (Clint) Capela which is illegal contact, so it's a loose ball foul.
As for the technical foul on Gobert, he said. "He was issued a technical foul because as he was coming off the floor he forcefully swing at items on the scorers' table and those three items came out to the floor in a considerable amount and we had to take action."
The Jazz are scheduled to practice Friday before leaving Saturday for a two-game road trip to San Antonio Sunday and Oklahoma City on Monday.