Rudy Gobert Gets Frustrated, Sweeps The Leg
10:32 AM EST on December 4, 2022
The sequence that ended with Rudy Gobert being ejected from Minnesota's disappointing 135–128 loss to the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday night was, for the most part, everything good about having Gobert on your basketball team. Right up until Gobert felt slighted, lost his temper, and decided to trip his opponent.
A determined, rumbling dive down the lane—pretty much the only thing beyond screen-setting that Gobert is qualified to do offensively—opened up a good lob opportunity, which teammate Kyle Anderson flubbed by throwing the ball off the top of the backboard for a turnover. Here is where 29 of the NBA's 30 starting centers would grimace and sigh and sulk in the backcourt as the action flies the other way in transition. Not the Frenchman! A quick hop step of disappointment and then Gobert was sprinting the other way, eventually beating the Thunder to the basket and striking the fear of God into three different ball-handlers, all of whom rather sheepishly declined to attempt layups under Gobert's humongous looming shadow. The ball came to Thunder forward Kenrich Williams on the right wing with eight seconds left on the shot clock, guarded in isolation by Gobert. Williams, who moments earlier had turned tail and fled the restricted area at the sight of Gobert's cavernous armpit, would now have to create a scoring opportunity against one of the three or four best defenders in the sport.
Gobert did marvelously against a much quicker player. His controlled close-out took away a clean three-point attempt, then he managed to turn and, without fouling, chase Williams step for step into the paint and to force an awkward, flailing, contested floater that ended with Williams tumbling to the hardwood. As this happened I mumbled, "Man, Gobert," aloud in my living room to no one.
There are solid rotation players at Gobert's position across the NBA for whom this would've been the best defensive sequence of their entire season (looking at you, Kristaps Porzingis). For Gobert, this was a disappointment: Williams's dipshit floater rattled around the rim and dropped, salvaging the possession. To add insult to injury, Williams's tumble left him crumpled underneath Gobert's legs, so that as the layup bounced in Gobert lost his footing and tumbled awkwardly to the floor.
Williams was feeling himself after consecutive buckets, and started chirping at Gobert. Gobert, who'd just had a max-effort sequence go the wrong way at both ends and didn't seem in a particular hurry to drag his 7-foot-1 frame upright, responded to Williams's impertinence by sticking out a huge foot and kicking Williams's legs out from under him.
This isn't necessarily part of a pattern for Gobert, but it's clear that if there's one thing he really cannot abide, it's being down on the floor while someone who's been mean to him is not also down on the floor. In November 2021 it was Myles Turner of the Pacers, who'd shouted "Gimme that shit!" while swatting away a Gobert layup: Gobert lost his balance and went down, and then decided that Turner's penalty for rudeness was to join him on the floor. For tugging Turner to the court and then acting as if he would like to exchange punches, Gobert was ejected. Saturday night's festivities didn't make it quite so far, but for kicking out Williams's legs and then sort of grabbing at him, Gobert was assessed a Flagrant 2 penalty and ejected from the game.
With Gobert steaming in the locker room and Karl-Anthony Towns already shelved with a calf injury, poor Naz Reid was Minnesota's only remaining big, and played a physically taxing and season-high 30 minutes. Reid wasn't super happy about this. “I’m hurt. I got sinus infections. Body in pain," he said after the game, before lamenting a team-wide lack of chill that started with Gobert and ended with the Timberwolves being assessed five technical fouls. "That’s something that we've got to work on as a team. Our veteran guys, they know better. They know they made mistakes, and they know that might’ve cost us moments in the game."
Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch called it "not the most mature effort" he'd seen. The Wolves have now lost four of their last five, are back below .500 on the season, and next week will head out for a five-game road trip. Everything's going great.