Gobert collided awkwardly with Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute on the first possession of Game 1, and did not return to the court. He was later diagnosed with a hyperextended knee and bone bruise. An MRI revealed no structural damage, which was decidedly good news for Gobert and the Jazz, but it always seemed unlikely that Gobert would be ready to play three days after the injury.
Per a report from The Salt Lake Tribune, Gobert has been walking without crutches, and will be evaluated on a game-by-game basis. He was on the floor at shootaround Monday:
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Gobert’s availability will have a major impact on the series going forward. As he struggled to pull himself off the Staples Center floor Saturday night, Utah’s dreams of a second-round matchup with the Warriors almost seemed to be hanging by a thread. That’s how important Gobert was to the NBA’s third-ranked defense this season.
But Gobert’s injury turned out to be the second-most significant event of the night. The most significant was Joe Johnson’s buzzer-beater over two hours later, which stole Game 1 for the Jazz on the road even without their star 7-footer.
The victory afforded Utah some leeway. Lose Game 2, and the Jazz still return to Salt Lake City on even ground and with home-court advantage. Lose Game 2 and 3, even, and the series is far from over, especially if Gobert can recover for the back end of it. The Jazz will do everything they can to get him back, of course, but the Game 1 win takes any potential desperation out of the situation, at least for now.
Utah’s Game 1 performance without Gobert was also extremely encouraging. Derrick Favors, who spent 46 percent of his regular season minutes playing power forward alongside Gobert, stepped into the primary center role and held his own against DeAndre Jordan. He scored 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the floor, and held Jordan to 10 points. Even without Gobert, the Jazz held the Clippers to under a point per possession.
The Jazz had a fair amount of offensive success with their small-ball looks, too. Doc Rivers pointed this out after the game. “With Gobert going down, in some ways, that helped them,” Rivers said. “They got small, they stretched the floor, which hurt us a little bit.”
A Utah lineup of George Hill, Gordon Hayward, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Favors played 12 of the game’s 48 minutes, and scored 1.33 points per possession, per NBA Wowy. Quin Snyder also paired Johnson and Boris Diaw together at the four and five positions for six minutes, and that look tallied 1.25 points per possession.
Credit goes to Snyder for adjusting on the fly in less-than-ideal circumstances. Going forward, however, the Jazz will likely miss Gobert more than they did Saturday. Rivers and the Clippers didn’t prepare for the sans-Gobert Jazz. In fact, much of their offensive gameplan likely took his presence into account. They’ll be better equipped to attack Utah’s defensive frailties after two days off.
And yes, Utah does have defensive frailties without Gobert. The fourth-year center, who is a leading candidate for defensive player of the year, blocked 2.6 shots per game during the regular season. With Gobert on the floor, the Jazz were the best defensive team in the league; with him off the floor, they ranked 20th in defensive efficiency. Gobert’s real plus-minus ranked fifth in the entire NBA, and his defensive real plus-minus ranked first.
The Clippers offense isn’t exactly programmed to score at the rim — only 36.7 percent of their points during the regular season came in the paint, the third lowest proportion in the league — but with Gobert out, there will surely be newly discovered avenues to the basket that both guards and bigs can use to get high-percentage shots.
In fact, while Gobert remains out, Utah, a better defensive team than offensive one with everybody healthy, might have to rely on its smaller lineups, and the scoring of those lineups, to hang with the Clippers. Offense could be key for the Jazz if they’re to turn this 1-0 series lead into a series victory and a likely second-round date with Golden State.