SALT LAKE CITY — Sometimes a single sequence tells the story of a game. That was the case with just under eight minutes remaining in the Utah Jazz's 114-96 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.
Clippers center Ivica Zubac caught Rudy Gobert overplaying his left shoulder. With a quick turn, Zubac drove for an open dunk — or so he thought. Gobert baited him (or maybe had just recovered phenomenally) and was there to block Zubac at the rim.
Gobert then ran straight down the middle of the court and was at the basket when Donovan Mitchell drew a crowd and threw it back to him for a one-handed rim-rocking dunk.
It was defense on one end, easy offense on the other. Another Jazz blowout. That's turning into the new "Gobert Effect."
Gobert was a problem the Clippers never solved Wednesday. He had 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 20 rebounds as the Jazz rolled to their ninth straight win. Utah has now gone 20-1 over its last 21 games.
"I mean, he is huge every night," said Joe Ingles, who had 14 points and five assists. "It looks different when he has 20 and 20 or whatever he had. Obviously, it makes it stand out a bit more. I think everyone notices offense, a bit more, but we know what he does for us on a nightly basis."
What he does on a nightly basis, no matter what the box score says, is help the team win.
During the Jazz's historic stretch, they have gone 2-0 without Mitchell and are now 6-0 without Mike Conley after he missed Wednesday's game due to right hamstring tightness. Mitchell is a lock to be an All-Star and Conley will garner plenty of interest, too — the Jazz have still won (and won easily) without them. It's hard to imagine Utah continuing the same level of dominance without Gobert in the lineup; he's too important.
In the first half on Wednesday, the Jazz, the team that has the league buzzing with some gaudy 3-point numbers were just 5-of-17 from behind the arc and were shooting just 39% from the field. Yet they were down by just five; that was because of Gobert.
How big of an impact did he have? When Gobert was on the court, the Jazz held the Clippers to 79 points per 100 possessions. That number ballooned to 114 when he was on the bench.
With that type of defense, Utah's offense can take plenty of time to find its footing, as it did Wednesday. It wasn't until the fourth quarter when the Jazz really looked like, well, the Jazz. They went on a 24-7 run in less than six minutes to wipe out a spirited Clippers effort and turn another game into yet another rout.
Gobert rolled to the rim, Mitchell came alive a bit, and Ingles and Georges Niang hit some threes. In a matter of minutes, the Jazz built up a casual 20-point lead.
Utah played uninspiring basketball for the first 24 minutes — and still won comfortably. Gobert gives the Jazz that much room for error. A player like that is how a team rolls off 20 wins in 21 games.
Sure, the Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Nicolas Batum, but this was far from a one-game occurrence. Gobert is playing at a higher level than he ever has — he's even getting some fringe MVP buzz due to this simple reasoning. He's the reason the Jazz are the best team in basketball, and doesn't that mean he's the most valuable?
It's usually hard to see that, but Wednesday it was pretty obvious.
"There's games where the box score doesn't show the things that he does; tonight it did," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "He's not trying to prove anything, he's just playing and he's just competing. ... He can lift you when he's doing that, particularly on the defensive end."
While Gobert's game-to-game impact might be hard for some fans to notice, it isn't for his teammates.
"He makes all of us look good at the end of the day," Ingles said. "He's made me look like a good defender for many years."
The real good news for the Jazz: He only appears to be getting better. Mitchell, who had 24 points, seven assists and seven rebounds (in what would be considered an uneven performance — just another example how good the Jazz have been as of late), said he believes Gobert is currently playing the best basketball of his career.
"He wakes up and he works hard every day," Mitchell said. "He puts the work in and continues to try to be the best player he can be. And I think that's something that translates into his game that you guys are starting to see. He's had 20 and 20 games before but I don't know if y'all can agree, I think these have been his best as a whole."
It's no wonder then why the Jazz have been at their best.