SALT LAKE CITY — Wednesday night’s game between the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets at Vivint Arena featured a matchup of two All-Star hopefuls with drastically different games in centers Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic.
With All-Star voting having ended on Monday, neither is expected to be named a starter given that, in the last vote total made public on Jan. 17, Jokic was seventh among Western Conference frontcourt players (centers and forwards are not separated on the ballot), while Gobert was not in the top 10.
This means both players’ hopes of making their first All-Star game will rest with coaches, who pick the reserves. Most pundits have been considering Jokic a lock, as he entered Wednesday averaging 19.6 points, 10 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game for a Nuggets team that spent much of the early part of the season atop the West standings.
Gobert came into Wednesday averaging 14.9 points, 13.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per contest. His case for a spot in an incredibly crowded Western Conference isn’t as widely seen as a lock like Jokic’s, although a growing number of observers have predicted he’ll make it.
Before the teams squared off Wednesday, both head coaches talked about the center they were about to face, with focuses on their differing strengths. Denver’s Mike Malone noted, “It doesn’t hurt to have a guy like Gobert on the back line covering the basket, blocking shots, altering shots.”
Utah’s Quin Snyder said, in regard to defending Jokic, “You have to be disciplined. He puts so much pressure on you. He can put it on the floor, he’s hard to double-team because he’s so big and he’s poised. He can have two guys on him and still find somebody.”
In the Jazz’s 114-108 win Wednesday, Jokic was better statistically with 28 points, 21 rebounds, six assists and two steals compared to 15 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and three assists for Gobert, but Gobert finished plus-16 in his time on the floor while Jokic was minus-11.
Early on, it appeared as though Gobert wouldn’t defend Jokic much, as Snyder put Favors on him instead. That changed quickly, however, after Favors was ejected in the scuffle he started with Nuggets backup Mason Plumlee.
With fans booing Jokic after he left the bench during the altercation and then got into it a bit with Jae Crowder (the boos persisted throughout the rest of the game), the Serb finished the first half with 11 points, five rebounds, five assists and a steal. Gobert had nine points, six rebounds, two blocks and two assists as the Jazz led 65-58.
"He's a very smart player, so you've got to be able to make him earn everything he can get," Gobert said of Jokic postgame.Comment on this story
Both players came up big down the stretch in the fourth quarter. A Jokic 3-pointer at the four-minute mark made it just a six-point lead for Utah, but then Gobert made two huge free throws with 1:14 to go to stretch the lead from four to six, and the Nuggets couldn’t rally from there.
Jokic said he wasn't fazed much by all the boos from the fans throughout the game.
"It was not really emotion," he said. "It was just the crowd was into the game and we were coming back from the tough start. Any game like that when you are coming back and you're playing against the crowd and a really good team, it's just a good game."