The Utah Jazz absolutely crushed the regular season on their way to the best record in the NBA. The Jazz were the only team to finish in the top-five of both offensive and defensive efficiency, and posted the best net rating (+9) in the league by nearly three points per 100 possessions. Utah did everything it could to show it should be taken seriously as a championship contender, but the 3-1 lead the team blew in the first round of last year’s playoffs left some lingering doubt on how their style would translate to this year’s postseason.
Their Game 1 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies won’t quiet those concerns. A Grizzlies team that finished with the ninth-best record in the West this year and only qualified for the playoffs via the play-in tournament showed it was the better team all night, coming away with a 112-109 victory to steal the first game of the best-of-7 series.
Utah was without Donovan Mitchell, who hasn’t played since April 16 as he nurses an ankle injury. The Jazz needed their other stars to pick up the slack with Mitchell sidelined, and it didn’t happen. As a team, Utah hit just 25.5 percent of the 47 threes they attempted. Presumptive Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson struggled to score efficiently (15 points on 16 field goal attempts), while presumptive Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert got into early foul trouble and eventually fouled out with just over four minutes left.
As the Jazz fought back behind a scoring barrage from Bojan Bogdanovic in the final minutes with Gobert on the bench, the star center did one of the strangest things you will ever see in a high-leverage playoff moment: he appeared to flop even though he wasn’t in the game.
What is Rudy Gobert even doing here? pic.twitter.com/OwgU4nHnaR— Bally Sports: Grizzlies (@GrizzOnBally) May 24, 2021
Derrick Favors completed a three-point play with just over 90 seconds left to trim Utah’s deficit to four. As Memphis’ Kyle Anderson was walking back after getting dunked on by Favors, Gobert brushed past Anderson and exaggerated the contact to fall to the floor.
Gobert’s weird flop was the most memorable part of his night. He ended the game with 11 points, 15 rebounds, and three blocks on perfect shooting, but his impact was limited by foul trouble in his 25 minutes. Jonas Valanciunas (15 points, 12 rebounds) got the best of Gobert inside in a way very few big men have been able to do over the last five years.
Gobert was incredible all year, and will be named All-NBA for the fourth time in his career after the season. Trying to flop in that situation isn’t going to help his playoff reputation, though. The Jazz will need him to be better in Game 2.