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Battle of the Bigs: Rudy Gobert vs Steven Adams

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How the battle in the paint might swing the Jazz-Thunder series

You know those classic movie battles where you just sit in awe at the power, finesse, and glory of both fighters? Maybe it’s the Optimus Prime-Megatron duel of the century between two giant alien transformers. Or the timeless bout of justice when Simba defeats Scar in a battle for the Pride Land in The Lion King. Or it could be the bloody, emotional battle of the brothers in The Warrior (my all-time favorite movie btw). We all know great battles when we see them. You watch them and you are instantly moved with how epic and amazing they are.

With the NBA playoffs starting, and the first round matchup of the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, we are about to witness one of these epic battles. A duel between two basketball giants, Rudy Gobert and Steven Adams. The Stifle Tower vs. the Big Kiwi. Two grown men going to war on the hardwood for a potential seven-game series. The battle is sure to epic. Blood will most likely be shed. Elbows might be thrown. Chests may be bumped. Muscles might get flexed. Everyone prepare yourselves for the clash of the titans in this OKC-Utah series: the battle between Steven Adams and Rudy Gobert.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

It may not be the matchup that produces the most points, or shows up the most on post-game highlights. But the Gobert-Adams matchup might just be a deciding factor in this series between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Both Gobert and Adams fill similar roles for their squads, and have been critical pieces in their respective teams’ successes. Gobert is the DPOY-favorite and is the anchor, captain, the heart and soul of this Jazz team. He has changed everything about the Jazz’s season after coming back from injury, and leads the best defensive team in the NBA since his return. He protects the rim like it’s his baby, and punishes it on the other end with thunderous dunks and put-back jams. Gobert makes opposing offenses reevaluate everything just to avoid meeting him at the rim, which is probably a good decision for their health and well-being. Guys try to challenge him at the rim, which is not the most intelligent of moves, just ask Nemanja Bjelica.

Steven Adams on the other hand, is having the best season of his career. He averaged 14 points and 9 rebounds per game in the regular season, and was an underrated contributor behind the Thunder Big Three of Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo. He averages 5.1 offensive rebounds per game, which is tied for the most in the NBA with Andre Drummond. These offensive rebounds are potential game changers in this series, especially because much of the Jazz’s game is focused on getting stops and securing the rebound. Adams makes his living rolling to the basket on offense, much like Gobert, and is an absolute bully in the paint. He has had his fair share of huge dunks, including this one against the Raptors earlier this season.

You usually find Adams on the other side of a bad Russell Westbrook shot attempt, cleaning up the glass like it’s a plate of ribs. He is a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the ball, and will give Gobert a handful throughout the series down low.

Gobert and Adams head-to-head

Rudy Gobert and Steven Adams have met on the court 14 times in their NBA careers. Adams holds the strong advantage in wins, with a 10-4 record in those games. The interesting effect in these head-to-head matchups has been the fact that Gobert and Adams basically neutralize each other, at least offensively. You may have noticed a similar phenomenom last year during the playoffs when Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan went at it.

Both Gobert’s and Adams’ averages drop off significantly in head-to-head matchups. Gobert averages a career 10 points and 10 rebounds per game, but in matchups with Steven Adams those numbers drop to 7.8 and 7.6. Steven Adams averages a career 9 and 7, but those numbers drop to 7.7 and 6.9 when he plays Rudy Gobert.

Although historically their numbers drop when these two play each other, both Gobert and Stevens had some pretty good games this season in two different matchups. Adams posted 20 points and 9 rebounds against Gobert on December 5th earlier this season, in what was actually one of his best games of the season.

Several plays in the highlights above show Adams getting the best of Gobert in the paint, some on offensive rebounds and others on designed playsets for Adams. These plays changed the game for the Thunder and ultimately led to their victory. Containing Adams on the offensive glass is going to be a critical key to the Jazz’s success if they want to make it to the next round.

Gobert also had a great game against Adams this season, on October 21 when he posted 16 points and 13 board in a win over the Thunder.

Rudy had some big dunks in this contest and a block on Adams late in the game, and had a very solid all-around performance. Rudy Gobert is going to have to go full Gobzilla if the Jazz want to take down Oklahoma City. If he ends up getting bested by Steven Adams throughout the series, it will be tough for the Jazz to hang around.

The Jazz and Thunder series is set to be an exciting one. The headlines might be talking most about Russell Westbrook’s consecutive triple-double season, or Donovan Mitchell’s Rookie of the Year campaign, both of which are legitimate topics to be discussed. But a factor that might not be discussed as much in this series is the battle of Rudy Gobert and Steven Adams.

Whoever wins this battle may also claim the series and move on to the next round. While you watch the games, pay close attention to what’s going on down low between Gobert and Adams, and who is winning the rebound game between the two. See if you can notice when Adams outpositions Rudy on a rebound, or if Gobert has a big block on Adams that generates some energy and momentum. This matchup is going to be a tough, physical bout between two tradiotional NBA bigs. It will be a dogfight to the finish. It will be a classic heavyweight clash of the titans. Just make sure you don’t miss it.