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SALT LAKE CITY — Luka Doncic had already gotten the best of Mike Conley repeatedly and had left Royce O'Neale caught on screens for much of the night.
So when Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd saw the Jazz switch Rudy Gobert onto his superstar late in the game, he was all smiles.
Doncic, after all, is one of the most lethal offensive threats in the game — a player that Jazz coach Quin Snyder had to stop himself from continuing to name all the things that he can do on the court. And he was up against a guy whose perception around the league says he can't guard on the perimeter.
"That's to our advantage," Kidd said, following the game.
But was it?
For seven minutes, Gobert switched onto Doncic and regularly stopped him. The Mavericks, who up to that point had been nearly unstoppable, were held to just 10 points in those minutes as the Jazz came back to win the game.
In a game that was more of a chess match than any regular-season game deserves to be, Gobert played the role of a do-it-all defensive menace that was just about everywhere. Isolation against Doncic rarely ends well for anybody; but for seven minutes, Gobert didn't just hold his own against a no-doubt top-5 offensive talent, he won the Jazz the game.
Snyder said the decision to use Gobert against Doncic late was read-based. He said the team's usual drop-big coverage had made the team too passive and had allowed Doncic to get to his spots, which in turn got the Mavericks too comfortable.
So the Jazz switched pick and roll more in the second half. Dallas countered by trying to get Gobert matched up with Doncic.
"When he's switching, he's as good as anybody standing in front of guards," Snyder said of Gobert.
Friday proved that.
As the clock ticked under seven minutes, Gobert switched onto Doncic for the first of many possessions down the stretch. Doncic tried to drive but ended up being caught under the basket. Unable to find a shot, he was forced to give the ball away as the shot clock wound down, which led to a turnover.
That was the beginning of the game within the game that decided Friday's game.
"He knows I'm trying to take away his stepback," Gobert said. "And then he's driving and I know he's going to try to use my body and then stop, so I've got to stay balanced and absorb the contact. And then he's going to try and get me in the air, so I've got to stay down."
Doncic wasn't held scoreless — he had 8 points in the final minutes; and Gobert wasn't perfect and allowed an open 3-pointer when he dropped back too much. But for the most part, Gobert controlled the game defensively when he was matched up with the Dallas superstar. He stopped Doncic's drives and even had an empathic block in the final minutes.
"Rudy did a pretty good job on him, staying in front and making him take tough shots," Bojan Bogdanovic said.
"We just trusted in the big fella and we stayed home," added Donovan Mitchell.
To Doncic, however, Gobert's defensive performance wasn't without controversy.
"I like the matchup. I got fouled, he didn't call it," Doncic said. "I know the ref, he doesn't like me."
On two drives down the stretch, Doncic turned to the ref and openly wondered where the whistle was.
"I'm not a ref. It was a physical game," Gobert said. "Luka always pushes, so if they're not going to call that, then they shouldn't call anything else."
And as for the perception — Doncic and Kidd seem to agree with it — that he can't guard on the perimeter, Gobert said: "The perception has never matched the numbers."
The numbers were on full display Friday.