SALT LAKE CITY — With no Rudy Gobert, the Utah Jazz are hoping it's Derrick Favors time.
After being the forgotten man most of the season, the former No. 3 pick in the draft has been thrust back into the spotlight. Gobert went down with a knee injury 17 seconds into Game 1 against the Los Angeles Clippers and now the Jazz need Favors more than ever.
"I'm just ready to get back to playing the way that I know how to play and am able to play," Favors said Thursday after practice. "Just get back to being myself."
He needs to get there quickly. The Clippers All-Star duo of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin outscored the Jazz 60-38 in the paint in a Game 2 loss.
Favors became the forgotten man this season as Gordon Hayward and Gobert flourished. He was considered part of a young and growing Big Three before knee injuries sapped his athleticism and limited Favors to 50 regular-season games.
But playing centre is nothing new for Favors. That was his original position before being moved to power forward, somewhat permanently, as Gobert grew into the starter in recent seasons. This season was frustrating for Favors as the injuries took away what made him unique — a high-level of athleticism for a 6-foot-10, 265-pounder.
Now Favors is back to his low-post roots after developing his high-post, midrange game the last few years. He has played 32-plus minutes at centre in the first two playoff games after playing fewer than 21 minutes in a single game since March 6. He only played three of the final 18 regular-season games.
"It's been a big adjustment for me," Favors said. "I've just got to be ready from the get-go. I know DeAndre Jordan, he's a good player, good rebounder. So my job is to just try to limit that for him. Just be ready."
Favors averaged 14 points and 6.5 rebounds in the first two playoff games, but there was a drastic difference on the defensive end. Jordan and Griffin repeatedly attacked the paint with little resistance against the Jazz in Game 2. The absence of the 7-1 Gobert, a defensive player of the year candidate, was more noticeable than in the Game 1 win.
"That's how we beat them in the regular season, is in the paint," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "The paint doesn't necessarily mean DJ or Blake. It means our guards getting into the paint, and if they can get to the basket and score. If they get (defensive) help, they get it to Blake and DJ.
"That's how we scored a lot ... through dribble penetration and ball movement. ... Yeah we want to do that again. ... Whatever they take away, we have to hope there's another avenue to go to."
Favors credited the Clippers for making the adjustment to attack the interior and said now it's up to the Jazz to adjust. Jordan had 18 points and 15 rebounds in Game 2.
Both Jazz coach Quin Snyder and Gobert have talked to Favors about his new role on both ends. He's gotten tips on where to align himself on certain plays and screens, in addition to working on other offensive moves with his athleticism still not where it once was.
"The biggest thing is he's just thrown into it," Snyder said. "He's fighting through some fatigue. He knows this is the time and he's got to raise his level. He's doing that, he's trying to do that.
"We want him to play the same way. He has his strengths. He's different than Rudy. But he's rolling and he's had some good opportunities playing off penetration. Half-rolls, floaters, jumpers, just the stuff that he's done all year."
The Jazz have been able to adapt to playing short-handed all season with Hayward, Favors, George Hill and Rodney Hood all missing significant stretches. But Gobert missed just one game and his size, length and pick-and-roll game isn't as easy to replace.
"Rudy's not going to walk through the door right now," Snyder said. "Whatever quote-unquote adjustments we make, it's not going to replicate Rudy.
"As far as shoring up the paint, I'm not sure that's going to happen on the level that Rudy did it. That's a personnel issue."
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