The Utah Jazz gave two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert the assignment of guarding Houston Rockets star point guard Russell Westbrook on Saturday. Shockingly, Westbrook was not amused by this. Russ torched Gobert and the Jazz for 34 points on 14-of-26 shooting, leading Houston to a 120-110 road win that left both teams deadlocked for the Western Conference’s no. 4 seed.
The highlight of the night may have been James Harden finding Westbrook for a monster baseline alley-oop, and the Rockets guard’s backdoor cut came as a direct response to some perceived disrespect from courtside Jazz fans:
Russell Westbrook on his interaction with a fan before alley-oop: “Before the oop, the guy was telling me ‘Shoot the 3, shoot the 3, Gobert is the best defensive player in the league’. I said ‘Okay, okay, okay’…While he was talking, I just went backdoor” pic.twitter.com/w6KXEP1ToX
— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) February 23, 2020
HARDEN TO RUSS MY GOODNESS🔥
Look at the elevation from Westbrookpic.twitter.com/bHKVii7Txk
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) February 23, 2020
After the game, the Jazz defended their deployment of 7-foot-1 Gobert on Westbrook:
“I think I would do it again,” Gobert said, via ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. “Having Russ being guarded by one of our guards is a mismatch. When I’m guarding him, at least he doesn’t get to the rim. He’s going to miss shots, he’s going to make shots, but at least he doesn’t break us down and bring the double team and find his teammates. We make him work.”
The Rockets have played well since pivoting to small-ball mode — especially Westbrook. Russ has scaled back his 3-point shooting and has played a near-ideal blend of efficient and destructive basketball. He’s averaging 33.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game on 52.4% shooting over his past 10 contests.
Of course, this is not Westbrook’s first incident with Jazz fans. Westbrook is being sued for a heated altercation he had with a Utah fan as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder in March 2019.