Keeping him happy: how Rudy Gobert got 8 dunks in victory over Blazers

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SALT LAKE CITY — Joe Ingles is one of the greatest marksmen to ever play in the NBA; but in his heart he will always be a playmaker first.

If you watch a Utah Jazz game, you will most likely see an opportunity where Ingles misses an open shot that he should have taken. He likes to shoot, but he prefers to pass the ball.

That’s why he was a little confused about Portland’s game plan on him Monday during Utah’s 129-107 win at Vivint Arena.

The Blazers had center Jusuf Nurkic jump on Ingles in the pick and roll, leading to some easy possessions for the Jazz (14-7).

“I don’t know why you would blitz me, because I’m a pass-first man anyway,” Ingles said. “Like, I couldn’t think of anything better than passing the ball, especially to Rudy (Gobert) to keep him happy.”

It certainly kept Gobert happy. With two straight possessions in the first quarter, Ingles easily beat the lightning-quick pick-and-roll cover by taking a few dribbles and then finding Gobert for a dunk. That set the tone for the game with Gobert hitting eight dunks, just one of his career highs.

“I think it’s the easiest cover to beat,” Ingles said. “We have a selfless team, which also helps. I think I got him on the first – the hedge wasn’t super aggressive, which of course I don’t know if that was the plan or not.”

Ingles also got Gobert on second and seventh; Jordan Clarkson, Trent Forrest and Mike Conley (three times) also found Gobert low for the easiest 2 points in the game.

For the most part, all the dunks also came from the same action. Portland doubled the ball handler leading to a quick swing pass that eventually found Gobert under the rim, or another open shot at the basket.

In the end, it wasn’t a wise defensive approach; it played into the hands of what Utah does best: move the ball and shoot fast.

“I thought our guys were selfless and got off the ball when needed,” said jazz coach Quin Snyder. “And then, if you spread it out and take some shots, suddenly lanes to the basket open up.”

Donovan Mitchell led the team in scoring with 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting, and Clarkson added 22 points from the bench. Gobert, meanwhile, finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds.

Utah’s All-NBA center knows the shots won’t always be there; before and after Monday’s game, he proudly boasted of how the Jazz has an attack that forces opponents to pick their venom, so to speak.

Opposing teams can either stay in the paint to stop Gobert’s rolls or they can hold shooters and give Gobert some walks to the basket.

That sometimes means that Gobert doesn’t have many chances to score – like on Saturday in Utah’s get-right win over the New Orleans Pelicans when he had only four shots; but it could lead to games like Monday’s when he was 9 out of 11 off the field.

It’s pretty easy to shoot over 80% if you’re over 6 feet tall and most attempts are dunks.

“I mean, I think as long as we play the right way, I don’t really care how many shots I get,” Gobert said. “If we attack where it hurts and get the right reading, we either get me under the rim or wide open 3s. It’s all about the way we play.”

However, Gobert was quick to add that he would have preferred the four shot attempts to be scarce – hey, not everyone is as pleased with setting up shots as Ingles is.

Ingles, who started in place of the injured Royce O’Neale, had 14 points and a team-high six assists in the win.

“The fun for me, of course, is to play the game in front of 20,000 people, but then give JC the ball where he wants or help Don so it’s not so hard for him, or get Mike or Rudy the ball so he doesn’t point …up any position to get an alley,” Ingles said.

Add the great offensive performance to what was one of Utah’s best defensive efforts of the season (for the first 2.5 quarters at least), and it made for a relatively comfortable night for the Jazz.

Utah limited former Weber state guard Damian Lillard to just 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting, with Conley and Gobert mostly being the ones stopping all rides to the paint.

Gobert stopped dunks and got his own, including a highlight reel in one hand when Trent Forrest’s lob went a little too high.

“I like a little challenge sometimes; when they throw it and I have to reach back,” said Gobert. “I’m just happy to get a lob. Wherever it is, I’m trying to get it.”

He paused for a moment, then finished, “Usually I get it.”

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