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Why two Rudy Gobert sequences were so critical to Game 1 victory over the Clippers

Part of a three-point swing in the second quarter and responsible for a game-clinching block, Utah big man helped secure the outcome in Game 1

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Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert drives against LA Clippers’ DeMarcus Cousins during Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert drives against LA Clippers center DeMarcus Cousins during Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 8, 2021.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The Utah Jazz beat the Los Angeles Clippers 112-109 on Tuesday night to take a 1-0 series lead.

The Jazz’s three-point margin of victory was sealed by a game-clinching block by two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, as Marcus Morris Sr. desperately tried to get a 3-pointer off before the final buzzer sounded.

But long before Gobert’s block in the final seconds, there was a three-point swing in the game that proved to be wildly important, and it also involved Gobert.

In the second quarter, the Jazz were trailing by 12 points. They’d been struggling to find any sort of consistency on offense and they needed something to shift the mood of the game.

Joe Ingles dished the ball off to Gobert. DeMarcus Cousins was standing between Gobert and the basket and as Gobert saw an opportunity he drove close to the baseline, forcing Cousins to slide over to defend. Gobert flipped the ball up with his left hand, the shot fell through the net and Cousins fell to the floor.

The official’s whistle sounded and Gobert initially seemed pleased, until he realized the official had issued a charging foul against Gobert rather than a blocking foul against Cousins.

Gobert was beside himself, and for good reason. Cousins was not set in a legal defending position and Gobert knew it.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder quickly evaluated the situation. If the call stood, Gobert would pick up his second foul with just under nine minutes left in the second quarter, the Jazz would still be down 12 and momentum would be in the hands of the Clippers.

If he were to challenge the call and it was overturned, the basket would count, Gobert would get an and-1 opportunity at the free-throw line, and he would have only one foul; instead it would be Cousins picking up his second.

Snyder challenged the call.

“I thought it was pretty obvious,” Gobert said. “Maybe from (the official’s) angle, he thought it was a charge. I’m glad that coach challenged it because there was no doubt that it wasn’t a charge.”

The original call was overturned, the challenge successful. Gobert’s basket counted, he went to the line and finished the three-point play by sinking the and-1 free throw.

It’s a bold move to use a coach’s challenge in the second quarter of a playoff game, but the rewards outweighed the risks for Snyder. At that point there was no way of knowing how valuable that play and the decision to challenge that call would end up being. But, in the final seconds of the game it was obvious.

On the final possession of the game, Ingles did an incredible job of sticking with Kawhi Leonard and forcing him to pass the ball to Morris in the left corner, but Gobert was ready, he knew the Clippers needed a 3 to tie the game. Gobert blocked Morris’ desperation shot and the Jazz won the game.

Had Snyder not challenged that charge call early on, there’s a chance Gobert wouldn’t have been on the floor at the end of the game. Gobert finished the game with five fouls, one short of fouling out.

“It’s the playoffs,” Gobert said. “Every play matters, every momentum play matters. Sometimes, unfortunately, every call matters.”

The Jazz’s two-time All-Star center made a smart play on Cousins in the second quarter and because of Snyder’s quick thinking, Gobert was able to be there on the last play of the game to make the game-saving block.