National Basketball Association
Rudy Gobert's poor showing vs. Clippers raises questions about value for Utah Jazz
National Basketball Association

Rudy Gobert's poor showing vs. Clippers raises questions about value for Utah Jazz

Updated Jun. 21, 2021 9:46 p.m. ET

The Western Conference's No. 1 seed was made to face the music over the weekend.

The NBA waved goodbye to the Utah Jazz from this year's playoffs after Paul George and the LA Clippers rallied in Game 6 to win the tilt 131-119 and the series 4-2 on Friday.

It was Utah's third loss in the conference semis in five seasons, to go with losses in the opening round of the playoffs in back-to-back seasons prior to this one.

After securing a 2-0 series lead, Utah dropped four straight to the Clippers.


The Jazz gave up an average of 125 points per game in those losses, well off the 107.2 they allowed per game en route to a 52-20 regular-season record.

Their defensive rating from the regular season (107.5) was second only to the Los Angeles Lakers' rating of 106.8.

At the anchor of their defense is center Rudy Gobert, the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year in 2018, 2019 and 2021. However, Gobert didn't exactly hold up to that standard against the Clippers.

In fact, even before the Jazz allowed the Clippers to score 81 second-half points in Game 6, Nick Wright of "First Things First" called the 7-foot-1 big man to the carpet.

Following Game 5, in which the Clippers had yet another second-half rally to the tune of 59-46 in a 119-111 win, Wright questioned the 28-year-old center's effectiveness.

Gobert, a rim-protector and force in the paint by trade, was nullified by Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue's decision to go with a small-ball lineup.

Ivica Zubac, LA's traditional center, started just once ⁠— Game 2's 117-111 loss for the Clippers ⁠— in the series.

Zubac averaged just 13.2 minutes per game against the Jazz after averaging 22.3 minutes per game in the regular season.

Instead, Lue relied on a starting lineup in which his three tallest players ⁠— George, Marcus Morris Sr. and Nicolas Batum ⁠— all checked in at 6-foot-8.

Backup center DeMarcus Cousins didn't see the floor vs. the Jazz. Rather, the Clippers leaned on speedier guards such as Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo and Luke Kennard for bench options.

Then there was Terance Mann, who burst onto the scene while filling in for injured superstar Kawhi Leonard.

Even when Gobert managed to patrol the paint, where he's much more comfortable, Mann was able to muster some monster throwdowns. 

As Wright pointed out Monday, this kind of playoff performance from Gobert has become more of the norm than the exception.

"If your Defensive Player of the Year gets targeted every year in the playoffs on defense, maybe, just maybe, your advanced analytics that say he's the greatest defender in league history should be thrown in the trash," Wright said after giving a breakdown of Gobert's recent playoff exploits.

Further complicating matters for the Jazz is Gobert's five-year, $205 million extension, which he signed in December 2020. That contract carries him through 2026, with a player option in 2025-26 worth roughly $47 million.

With franchise cornerstone Donovan Mitchell also locked down on a big-money extension through 2026, the Jazz have a big chunk of change tied up in their two stars.

The Jazz and Gobert seem to have things figured out when it comes to the regular season, but the postseason has presented a different animal.

In Gobert's defense, some other highly acclaimed big men have had their own troubles against speedy guards in these playoffs, including Joel Embiid with Trae Young and Nikola Jokić with Chris Paul.

The difference with Embiid and Jokić, though, is that they deliver on the offensive end in a big way.

For Gobert, he'll likely need to further refine his offensive game, or he and Jazz head coach Quin Snyder must figure out a way for Gobert to not be neutralized defensively when teams go small.

Otherwise, he might have a real uphill battle to live up to that lofty contract.

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