It was an impressive Game 5 for the Brooklyn Nets and Kevin Durant. Durant led the Nets to a narrow victory over the Milwaukee Bucks with a monster statline: 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists. Easily one of the greatest playoff performances we’ve ever seen. But those stats aren’t the most impressive thing about Durant’s night, he played all 48 minutes. With Kyrie Irving out with an ankle sprain, the Nets needed every single one of those minutes to pull out the win.
Kevin Durant (49 PTS, 17 REB, 10 AST) played all 48 minutes tonight.— NBA (@NBA) June 16, 2021
The last player to play all 48 minutes during an #NBAPlayoffs game was LeBron James on May 27, 2018 (ECF, Game 7 vs. BOS).#ThatsGame pic.twitter.com/mDSTSXW7Tv
Kevin Durant wasn’t the only one who put in a yeoman’s work. James Harden, back from a hamstring injury, played 45 minutes. Just three minutes of rest total between the Nets’ two superstars. Why? Well, the Nets are playing for their lives. This is the playoffs after all. They knew that if they didn’t win, it means heading back to Milwaukee and facing final elimination without Kyrie Irving.
The Utah Jazz find themselves in a very similar situation. Like the Nets, Utah has been without one of its stars for the entire series against the Los Angeles Clippers. And like the Nets they’re going into Game 5 tied 2-2.
But by the amount of minutes they’re playing their stars, especially Rudy Gobert, you wouldn’t get the feeling that there’s any sort of desperation.
These playoffs, the minutes for Rudy Gobert have become a glaring issue. For the series against the Clippers, Gobert is averaging 32.6 minutes per game with a high in Game 2 of 36.04. Yup, 32.6 minutes in the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs. Those are the types of minutes you’d expect to see on some random regular season game against a below .500 team, but not the playoffs.
The thing is, this isn’t anything new. Against the Memphis Grizzlies Gobert averaged 32.5 minutes. Almost the exact same amount.
If you look at all the other players in the playoffs, Gobert isn’t even close to playing the same amount of minutes as other stars in the league. A big hat tip to Jake Lee for accumulating this list of minutes for the league’s best in the playoffs.
No All-Star without injury has played less minutes per game than Gobert— Jake Lee (@JakeRexLee) June 15, 2021
32.5 Gobert https://t.co/MAozIvOdgd
Our own Adam Bushman compiled a list of the leading star duos in the Conference Semi-Finals. It’s the same story.
Average Q1-Q3 minutes played for star duos in the Conference Semi-Finals— Adam Bushman (@adam_bushman) June 15, 2021
62.3 - Durant/Irving
61.3 - Antetokounmpo/Middleton
60.3 - Paul/Booker
58.3 - Leonard/George
57.0 - Embiid/Simmons
55.3 - Jokic/Porter Jr.
54.3 - Young/Collins
51.0 - Mitchell/Gobert ⬅️ #NoteWorthy
Now, some will mention that there are times where Gobert has been pulled for foul trouble. It’s a fair point, but against the Grizzlies Gobert didn’t play a game with more than 35 minutes. In Game 1, where Gobert dealt with early fouls, Quin Snyder pulled him multiple times after hitting whatever is his benchmark is for when you can play and when you have too many fouls. Snyder obviously believes that being in foul trouble limits a player. It’s true to some to some extent, but aren’t players able to adjust their style to stay on the floor? Or is there no trust from the coach for the players to do that? Rudy Gobert is now a 3-time DPOY, 5-time All-NBA player. Has he not earned trust at this point to figure out how to adjust and stay on the floor? Apparently not.
And is Gobert the only one that ever deals with foul trouble in the playoffs? Surely all these other players find themselves with early fouls, but somehow they’ve all managed to stay on the floor to help their respective teams.
This benching of Gobert because of foul trouble has already cost the Jazz this playoffs. In Game 1 against the Grizzlies Gobert was a +9 in a 3-point loss. And even though he was held for most of the game, he still ended up fouling out when Snyder put him in late. So not only did Gobert sit for foul trouble, which allowed the Grizzlies to make extended runs, it didn’t even protect him because he fouled out anyways. Lose, lose.
Interestingly enough, Gobert did play more minutes last season in the playoffs. Against the Denver Nuggets, with Tony Bradley as his backup, Gobert averaged 38.6 minutes played. He even logged games of 42, 42 and 41 minutes. So he is definitely capable of playing a heavier load. And as we all know, in Game 7 against the Nuggets the Jazz lost by 2 points. Gobert was a +6 in that game. Are you seeing a pattern here? Perhaps if he had played into the 40-minute range the Jazz have a different story last season. We’ll never know.
Going back in time even more, how many minutes did Gobert average the season before against the Houston Rockets in the 2018-19 playoffs? 30.4 minutes per game. That’s right, the DPOY of that season played just 30.4 minutes per game in the playoffs. That narrative of Gobert being played off the floor was started because the Jazz’s head coach kept Gobert off the floor.
So why did Gobert play low minutes in 2018-19, big minutes in 2019-20, and now low minutes again in 2020-21? The connection I see is Derrick Favors.
Perhaps this isn’t as much about Gobert as it is about Quin Snyder’s reliance on Favors. Utah invested a lot in Derrick Favors this offseason using the MLE to bring him back on the team to back up Rudy Gobert. Perhaps Snyder was a big proponent of that and feels invested?
To Favors’ credit at times this season, and in these playoffs, he’s played well. I don’t want to just badmouth a Jazz fan favorite. That being said, there have been a lot of times that his contract has felt like a sunk cost. Against the Grizzlies, Favors looked rejuvenated, but this series against the Clippers he’s really struggled. Snyder appears to have a big blind spot for these non-Gobert minutes. Does he not see what’s happening? Or maybe it’s just his principles with minutes played, or foul trouble? Maybe this isn’t even him, maybe this is a directive from the front office? Whatever the case, whether you’re looking at the on/off numbers for Gobert, or just watching the game, it’s clear that the Jazz have a major issue when Rudy Gobert is off the floor.
According to Cleaning the Glass Rudy Gobert has a +25.3 efficiency differential. What is efficiency differential? It’s the team points scored per 100 possessions minus team points allowed in those 100 possessions. The inverse of this is obviously -25.3. Basically, when Rudy Gobert is sitting on the bench, the Jazz are giving up points at an alarming rate.
This goes back to the idea of trust from the coach in the player. If Gobert is playing in foul trouble, and is holding off to avoid a foul, it’s still going to be better than taking him off the floor completely. Every time Gobert sits, Snyder is giving the Clippers exactly what they want. And Ty Lue isn’t messing around in those minutes. Paul George is averaging 39.7 minutes per game this series. That means there’s about 7 minutes per game that Paul George is on the floor without Gobert. 7 minutes in the playoffs is an eternity when every possession matters.
That’s the most frustrating thing about this. It’s so incredibly fixable and yet we’ve seen the same thing every game this playoffs, including Game 3 where the Jazz made a late comeback and Gobert played just 31 minutes. Playing Gobert more might not have led to a victory, but sitting him for that long definitely ensured the loss.
The series is now 2-2. Everything is still winnable for the Jazz. Although if Rudy Gobert doesn’t stay on the floor longer we may be looking at another disappointing finish where Gobert’s impact was negated not by a stretch big or a good mid-range shooter, but by his own coach sitting him.
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