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Los Angeles • By winning Game 1 of a Western Conference first- round matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Utah Jazz were able to survive almost 48 minutes without Rudy Gobert.
And what a historic win it was for the Jazz on multiple fronts. It was their first playoff win at Staples Center in nine tries. It was their first postseason win of any kind in seven years. And the 97-95 victory was accomplished in the most dramatic fashion possible, with Joe Johnson's buzzer-beating floater in the lane and the Jazz celebrating at halfcourt in front of a silent sellout crowd.
But there's a big difference between a team surviving one game without a significant presence versus surviving an entire series. And the Jazz depending on how long it takes for Gobert to recover from a hyperextended left knee may have to play without Gobert for an extended period.
Can Utah push on and win without Gobert long-term? That is now the dominant question as the series moves on to Tuesday night's Game 2.
"I think we showed we can play without Rudy," Jazz point guard George Hill said. "You wish he was back and you wish this didn't happen, but we've been dealing with injuries and adversity all season long. Sometimes, things are out of your control and things happen."
The All-NBA candidate suffered the injury 11 seconds into Saturday's Game 1, when he bumped knees against Clippers forward Luc Mbah A Moute and almost instantly collapsed. In Gobert's stead, Derrick Favors and Jeff Withey recorded inspiring efforts for the Jazz in the paint, which went a long way toward the Jazz pulling off the 97-95 win.
Obviously, the Jazz are relieved Gobert's injury isn't more significant, or as bad as it originally appeared. The center was examined Saturday night through an X-ray and an MRI, both of which showed no structural damage. On Sunday, Johnson and Joe Ingles said he was walking around pretty normally.
Still, Gobert will almost certainly be unavailable for Tuesday night's Game 2 against the Clippers at the Staples Center, although Jazz coach Quin Snyder wouldn't officially rule him out. And his status as the series progresses isn't readily known.
"You don't wish that on anyone," Ingles said. "And obviously, especially Rudy, with the way he's played for us this year. We're going to have to figure out a way to regroup, and hopefully he's OK."
The Jazz said they were in shock in the moments following Gobert's injury, and that it took the better part of the first quarter for them to collectively recover. Indeed, the Clippers scored seven of the first nine points, prompting Snyder to call a timeout.
"Those first couple of minutes, we felt a little bit stunned out there," Jazz forward Boris Diaw said.
Utah, however, scored the next five points after the initial timeout, allowing the Jazz to find their composure. And once they did that, the Clippers would never lead by more than six points for the remainder of the night. At halftime, Gobert was in the locker room to greet his teammates, offering encouragement. He was already out of his uniform and in street clothes by that time. He had a wrap and a bag of ice on his knee. But he wasn't walking with crutches, and he didn't have a brace.
"It was a great sign for us that he didn't need crutches," Jazz shooting guard Rodney Hood said. "He was walking. He was limping a little bit. It meant a lot that he greeted us."
Assuming Gobert is out on Tuesday, a lot of responsibility will fall on Favors, who played one of his best games in months Saturday night. He struggled for much of the season with a bone bruise in his knee. But when called upon, Favors came up big.
Playing 32 minutes in Game 1, Favors scored 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. He grabbed six rebounds, handed out two assists and blocked a shot. The enormity of the moment wasn't lost on Favors. He knew the second Snyder put him in the game how much his performance good or bad would mean to Utah's overall fortune.
More than the points, Favors provided a presence at the rim on both ends the Jazz desperately needed. He also didn't let Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan dominate the game, which was significant.
"That was the most nervous that I've been for any game in my basketball career," Favors said. "I felt good. It was my first time playing 30 minutes in a long time. I didn't have any pain in my knee, no discomfort. I was just a little fatigued."
More than anything, the Jazz, once they got over the shock of Gobert going down, found a comfort level that allowed them to steal Game 1 from the Clippers. Simply put, they've been down the injury road before, many times, with many different teammates.
The Jazz have survived a major injury this season to most of their main players not named Gordon Hayward. Even Gobert while durable this season missed a chunk of last year with a sprained MCL.
So Utah didn't panic Saturday night. The Jazz simply kept playing, and did so with the guys available to them.
"We were all upset," Favors said. "But we had to have a next-man-up mentality. I knew that I had to play well. Rudy had been covering for me all season, so it was my turn to pick up a little bit of slack for him."
R Jazz forward Gordon Hayward scored 19 points and added 10 rebounds in Game 1, and keyed a 6-0 run at the end of the third quarter to give the Jazz an edge.
• The Jazz snapped a seven-game winning streak by the Clippers, a team that hadn't lost since March 26, against the Sacramento Kings.
• Derrick Favors played 30 minutes in a game for the first time since a March 6 win over New Orleans.