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Monson: Jazz have a thin line of hope vs. Clippers — and its name is Rudy Gobert

Published April 19, 2017 2:31 pm

Utah Jazz • Game 2 was a preview of what is to come without Jazz big man in the middle
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The Jazz are dead without Rudy Gobert.

You can curse the Fates for it, and you should, because it's unfair and competitively cruel. That makes the conclusion no less true. Game 1 was exceptional for the Jazz, battling through the big man's loss just 11 seconds in, but the problem is, it was exactly that — an exception.

Here's the rule: Take the best player off almost any playoff team and watch it labor and groan and slip under the waves. Conscientious effort is nice and all, it's admirable and noble, but, with that kind of disadvantage, it usually falls short in a best-of-seven affair.

What happened on Tuesday night in L.A. was difficult for the Jazz, but completely predictable. It was as subtle and as plain to see as a running locomotive. Quin Snyder game-planned to stop what he knew was coming, but …


The Clippers came out aggressive and physical, showing self-awareness, knowing full well that if the Jazz really were the exception, and if the Clips were to lose and tumble into a 2-zip hole, no amount of subsequent physicality or aggression would retrieve them from their mental crater. They wouldn't rally, they'd blow apart.

The Jazz couldn't muster enough to shove the Clips into that kind of funk. Not without … You Know Who.

That sounds like an excuse, but it's more an explanation.

How would the Cavs do without LeBron? The Spurs without Kawhi? The Rockets without Harden? The Thunder without Russ?

The Clippers did the smart thing, then. They attacked a gaping weakness that before Saturday night was the Jazz's absolute strength. They killed the Jazz at the rim. Again and again, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin hammered poor Derrick Favors and Jeff Withey and Joe Johnson and anyone else who made the attempt to fill Rudy's sizable Nikes. Saying they were overmatched is like saying that squirrel crossing a county two-lane was overmatched by a 10-ton Peterbilt. Griffin got 24 points, Jordan 18, many of them on mammoth flushes. All told, the Clips went for 60 of their 99 points in the paint.

No reason to believe they won't keep on hammering away.

"We weren't able to contain the ball," Snyder said in the aftermath. "We've got to find other ways to protect the paint. … Everybody else has to step up. … They were really aggressive attacking the rim. We've got to raise our level and continue to compete. … We can't give up defensive rebounds. That's something that at times really hurt us. … We've got to figure out how we can be effective without [Rudy]."

Anybody got a suggestion?

What makes finding a solution even more complicated is this: Chris Paul is a master at getting the ball where it needs to go to facilitate such an attack. Paul owned George Hill on Tuesday night, both in distributing the rock and scoring it. He had 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting, with 10 assists and three steals. His acumen helped his team shoot better than 52 percent from the floor.

Coming home now to Vivint Arena, Snyder is desperately searching for options. He's not going to publicly whine or complain about the way fortune keeps kicking his team in the onions, even though that's exactly what it has done. Only 14 times this season has he had his preferred starting lineup on the floor.

The Jazz will go on trying hard. It's what they do. That sounds, in the context of the NBA playoffs, a bit condescending — nobody hands out OtterPops here — but it is meant with nothing other than respect. The Jazz overextended themselves in the Game 2 loss, everyone trying to do too much, trying to make up for Gobert's absence.

That order is too tall.

The only way the Jazz, as presently constituted, can get three more wins in this series is if they put up just enough resistance at the defensive end and shoot manna from heaven at the offensive. They did hit 10 of 25 bombs in Game 2, which helped, but, ultimately, was not enough.

The real solution is an unlikely intercontinental reach, wholly outside anyone's control: Gobert has to heal up. Not just heal up, but be ready to play.

The Jazz deserve that. With the way they've battled through injuries all season, the way they've worked straight into a cold wind, time and time again, having Spaldings thrown down their throats now by the Clippers … it ain't right.

After Game 2, the veteran Joe Johnson held out a little hope for his less-experienced teammates with the utterance of one sentence: "It's a thin line between winning and losing in the playoffs."

For the Jazz, that line has a name — and a tender knee: Rudy Gobert.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.






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