It took only one game into their Western Conference first round with the Clippers to know that the Utah Jazz are living right.
Actually, less than a minute into Game 1, that wasn’t the case. Center Rudy Gobert, one of the leading contenders for Defensive Player of the Year, suffered a knee injury and was done for the night after being helped off the floor. Initially diagnosed as a sprain, Gobert underwent an MRI and the result was indeed a relief: It was ruled a hyperextension. There is no structural damage, according to various reports. His status for Game 2 Tuesday is unclear.
As much as the win will certainly help the Jazz in this series, they apparently will see Gobert again in this series, given the lack of severity to his injury. His contribution will be crucial; Gobert provides much-needed rim protection and his offensive game has steadily improved this season.
He is a vivid example of Utah’s talent development blueprint, a gangly 7-footer from France who wasn’t projected as a premier big man, but given the time and patience to prove otherwise. The 27th pick in 2013, Gobert was lavished with a rich contract extension before this season and then posted career average highs in points (14.0, with a career-high 35 against the Knicks), rebounds (12.8) and blocks (2.6), the last two among the NBA leaders.
Despite losing Gobert in Game 1, the Jazz stole the opener by playing a disciplined game, giving themselves a chance to win at the end and refusing to play the role of victim without their starting center.
“We felt and knew that a lot of people were counting us out when he went down,” said Johnson.
Throughout his career, Johnson made a habit of taking crucial shots, first in Phoenix, then Atlanta and even with the Brooklyn Nets even though his level of play began to slip with age. The Jazz signed him as a free agent to add to their young mix and bring experience, which was helpful Saturday night in LA with the game on the line. Johnson went isolation on Jamal Crawford and then used an inside move to score over Crawford and a late-arriving DeAndre Jordan. His 21st point led the Jazz in scoring.
Not only did Jazz coach Quin Snyder keep Johnson on the floor, the coach refused to call timeout after Chris Paul tied the game at 95-all with 13 seconds left, electing to keep the Clippers from setting up defensively.
Utah is expected to provide an update on Gobert’s condition sometime Sunday.