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SALT LAKE CITY — Rudy Gobert was spinning.
There were 30 seconds remaining, the Jazz had a two-point lead and Gobert had just watched Delon Wright dribble past him into the paint as Gobert charged for a closeout. It looked to be a for sure game-tying layup.
Looked to be.
Gobert spun around, stayed on Wright’s hip and timed his jump perfectly to swat the layup against the backboard.
“I was spinning around,” Gobert said. “I was trying to recover. I saw him go up with the ball, and I tried to make a play at the last moment.”
Moments later, the Vivint Arena crowd was chanting in unison, “Rudy, Rudy, Rudy” as Gobert sealed the game from the free-throw line.
With two of the league’s best offenses trading buckets, it was a highlight-reel worthy defensive play that was the difference in Utah’s thrilling 112-107 win over the Dallas Mavericks Saturday at Vivint Arena.
Of course, that play came from Gobert.
“At the end of the game, Rudy can (guard) one through five,” Donovan Mitchell said. “I didn’t see the block because I was face guarding my man, but I saw the replay and it was impressive. I’m convinced he let the guys lay it up at the beginning of the game so he could block it late. He’s an All-Star.”
It took a special defensive play to steal the attention away from the two offenses that were sharing the court on Saturday.
The Mavericks (28-17) came into the game as the league’s most efficient unit — and one that is threatening to become the most efficient unit ever. The Jazz (32-13) came in with the top offense in the NBA over the last 20 games.
And they both showed it during a fourth-quarter firework show.
In the final two minutes alone, there were four different shots made that either tied the game or took the lead. The rest of the quarter was much of the same with Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic hitting big 3s and the likes of Seth Curry and Kristaps Porzingis answering them with their own big shots. It was a back-and-forth affair for nearly the entire quarter.
But the haymakers started really flying at the end.
With 1:37 remaining, Mitchell drilled a 3-pointer to tie the game — answering a Luka Doncic, who finished with 25 points, push shot over Gobert 13 seconds before.
With 1:02 left, Gobert tipped in a Mitchell layup attempt to give the Jazz a 106-104 lead. Tim Haraway Jr. hit a go-ahead 3-pointer for Dallas just 10 seconds later.
Then Royce O’Neale hit the most important shot of the night. After Mitchell drove into the paint and collapsed the defense, he found a wide-open O’Neale alone in the corner. O’Neale nailed the 3-pointer to put the Jazz up for good.
But that might not even have been O’Neale’s most clutch play on Saturday. Just a couple possessions earlier, the newly extended small forward picked up Doncic at halfcourt before stonewalling him as he tried to make a move into the paint, causing a turnover.
“We win because we play well as a team,” Gobert said.” I’m not able to do what I do — let’s saym if Royce doesn’t hit that shot maybe we lose the game tonight.”
But there’s no maybe when it comes to Gobert. Without him, the Jazz would have surely lost to Dallas on Saturday. And the reasons go far beyond his late-game block.
Gobert finished with 22 points on a perfect 8-of-8 from the field, 17 rebounds and five blocks.
There was a time in the third that Bogdanovic (who finished with 22 points) and Mitchell (who scored 11 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter) were a combined 7-of-26 from the field. The Jazz had Gobert to thank for why the game was even close.
“I thought he kept us in the game in the first half,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “There was a timeout when our whole team was talking about defending. I was talking about a couple of nuances defensively and they shut me up, sort of talking about guarding, so that was good. And Rudy was at the center of that, no pun intended, but that’s what he did. Everybody raised their level to his level on the defensive end in the second half, and we had some guys opportunistically make some plays on offense.”
And that set up Gobert to make the game-winning one on defense.