Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner Rudy Gobert blamed himself for the Utah Jazz‘s 105-104 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night, saying his botched execution that led to D’Angelo Russell‘s game-winning layup made him “feel dumb.”
“If I don’t f— up the last play defensively, we end up with a win,” Gobert said after the NBA-leading, 44-17 Jazz’s second loss to the 18-44 Timberwolves in three nights.
Utah, which had another poor shooting performance without injured All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, rallied from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to take the lead on a Mike Conley 3-pointer with 6.4 seconds remaining.
After a timeout, Gobert was defending Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns at the free throw line as the Timberwolves started their inbounds play. Towns screened for Anthony Edwards, and as Russell screened Gobert, popped out to the perimeter well above the 3-point arc.
Conley and Gobert initially switched, putting Conley and Towns and Gobert on Russell. However, after a moment, Gobert inexplicably left Russell alone at the free throw line, scampering out toward Towns. Ricky Rubio passed to Russell, who took one step before laying the ball in with no Utah defender near him.
“It’s totally on me,” Gobert said. “(Conley) was already out there. We switched, and I should have recognized that. He did what he was supposed to do, and I didn’t, so 200% on me. … Mike did exactly what he had to do, and I didn’t. It’s one of those plays, when you watch a replay, you just feel dumb. It’s one of those. It doesn’t happen a lot, but 100% on me, for sure.”
Russell, who finished with 27 points and 12 assists, made the layup with 4.2 seconds remaining. But the Jazz failed to get a shot up on their last possession, as Conley committed a turnover.
“Just a tough two plays down the stretch for us,” Conley said. “We’ve got to be better in that situation.”
Towns, who had 21 points and 11 assists, was gleeful that he commanded so much attention that it created such an easy opportunity for Russell at a critical juncture.
“I can’t stress how good it felt,” Towns said. “All game, I had so much attention on me. They did a good job of doing their defensive game plan, but I told D-Lo, ‘How good does that feel? That you’re on a team with someone who draws as much attention as you, or even more, where the last play of the game can be a game-winning layup by yourself because both people went to me at halfcourt.'”
The loss allowed the Phoenix Suns to close within one game of the Jazz’s for the league’s best record and the top seed in the Western Conference. Yet the Jazz shrugged off concern about their situation, emphasizing that their primary goals are to be healthy and playing well when the playoffs begin.
“We’re still very confident,” Conley said. “We’re learning, and they’re great lessons for us going into the playoffs. Hopefully, we’re getting them out now before we get to the time that we’re playing better competition.”