Game 4s: Jazz look for 3-1 lead, Wolves aim to tie Rockets
Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double, so he gets plenty of attention. Ricky Rubio just had a triple-double , earning him some time in the headlines. Donovan Mitchell has been great in his first three playoff games, so the fascination with the rookie star is only growing.
It's easy to notice those guys.
Rudy Gobert should be getting noticed as well.
Utah is taking a 2-1 lead into their Western Conference first-round series against Oklahoma City on Monday night, and Gobert is probably as responsible for the Jazz being in that position than anyone. He's controlling the backboards, he's changing shots, he's thwarting Westbrook and he's showing why he's the likely Defensive Player of the Year.
"It makes the guards' jobs a lot easier," Mitchell said of the French safety net with the 7-foot-9 wingspan who protects the rim for the Jazz. "You feel more secure on the wing. ... The whole season, I've been saying if somebody gets by me, it's like, 'All right, go ahead, try it. Because I've tried it. And it doesn't work."
Westbrook probably would agree: He's 1 for 7 in this series with Gobert waiting at the rim for him.
There's two Game 4s on the schedule Monday, with Houston at Minnesota leading off before the Oklahoma City-Utah game. The Rockets fell in Game 3 to the Timberwolves on Saturday, but still lead that series 2-1.
Westbrook is not happy, and the reigning NBA MVP wasted little time in vowing that things will be different in Game 4. He was talking about slowing down Rubio, but he might be better served getting himself going again. Going back to the regular season, Westbrook hasn't shot better than 40 percent in any of his last six games - the worst such streak of his career.
Here's a look at Monday's games:
ROCKETS AT TIMBERWOLVES
Rockets lead 2-1. Game 4, 8 p.m. EDT, TNT.
NEED TO KNOW: The Timberwolves bounced back from a 20-point loss in Game 2 with a sellout-crowd-inspired 16-point victory over the Rockets in Game 3 that was the franchise's first win in the playoffs since 2004. Jimmy Butler had 28 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had 18 points and 16 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who were more aggressive than they were in Games 1 and 2. "I felt like they outworked us, and that should never happen," Rockets guard Gerald Green said.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The Rockets shooting 3-pointers. They needed 41 attempts to make 15 behind the arc in Game 3, as many as the Wolves swished in 27 tries. Harden was just 3 for 8, his rainbows often drifting to the left, as the Wolves kept up what has been a better-than-usual defensive performance in this series. "We're just making it harder on them, making them take tough shots and just trying to find ways to stop a high-powered offense," Towns said.
PRESSURE IS ON: Rockets center Clint Capela. After a 24-poin/t, 12-rebound production in Game 1, Capela had only seven points on six shots in Game 3. On the other end of the court, Towns finally got going after two bad games thanks in part to Capela's defense. The Rockets could use a strong response from the Swiss standout in the attempt to keep the Wolves from tying the series.
INJURY UPDATE: Butler, who missed a total of 21 games this season due to trouble with his right knee, clutched his left ankle in pain after twisting it late in the first half of Game 3. He didn't miss any time, though, and didn't even acknowledge the injury when asked about it in his postgame interview. "At the end of the day if you tell your mind it doesn't hurt, it doesn't," Butler said.
THUNDER AT JAZZ
Jazz leas 2-1. Game 4, 10:30 p.m. EDT, TNT.
NEED TO KNOW: Utah has won each of its last five first-round series as the No. 5 seed, and the Jazz are halfway to extending that streak. The crowd in Salt Lake City was extremely loud on Saturday and will likely be again on Monday. The Thunder are 5-6 in their last 11 games, and no one needs to remind them of how low the success rate is for teams that go down 3-1 in a series.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook from deep. Paul George has been great from 3-point range (15 for 31) in the three games, but Westbrook and Anthony are a combined 9 for 31. The Thunder need to get something going consistently from the perimeter to soften up Utah's stout interior defense.
PRESSURE IS ON: Utah. Most would think it's the team trailing that would feel the most pressure, but Utah has a chance to take total command of the series. A loss would be doubly deflating; not only would the Jazz lose home-court, but they would go back to Oklahoma City for Game 5 with the Thunder thinking they have control of the matchup.
INJURY UPDATE: Westbrook was getting treatment on some sort of upper-body issue in Game 3 and was coy about it afterward, pointing out that most players are ailing at this time of year. But if he's limited in any way, that's obviously a huge problem for the Thunder.
AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell in Minneapolis contributed to this report
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