HOUSTON – Rudy Gobert returned Monday from a three-game absence because of right groin soreness.
But in reality it was more like a five-game absence for the Timberwolves center, considering he tried to play through the injury in the two games before sitting out. Each of those attempts didn't last long, and Gobert then sat for a few games. He was close to returning Saturday but decided to hold off and was good to go Monday against the Rockets.
"I felt pretty good," Gobert said after the 119-114 loss. "Started to feel a little tight at the end, but much better than previous days. We'll see how it feels [Tuesday] and the next day, but it's great to be back out there."
Gobert finished with 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting to go with 16 rebounds and four blocks in his return. Afterward he discussed how the injury was different from others he has had and why he decided to play in those games he eventually had to exit.
"I'm used to playing through pain and injuries, but I had never had that type of injury before," Gobert said.
Gobert didn't delve into specifics, but he called the injury "weird" and wasn't quite sure how it would respond when he tested it. After hurting his groin against the Suns on Jan. 11, Gobert came into the next game against Cleveland as questionable. He played just 13 minutes before exiting. Gobert then got himself ready to play against Utah two days later but didn't even last that long before leaving after just under five minutes of playing time.
"It took me off guard the first time, the second time I thought I was able to play and boom, it caught me again," Gobert said. "I couldn't run. So, just try to do everything I can to really take my time and when I come back, make sure I'm able to come back and play 100 percent."
He sat out the next three games. "I thought I was ready for the Utah game and then five minutes into the game, I couldn't walk," he said.
Gobert has never dealt with this injury, so he decided to take things a little easierand sat the next three games. He went through his pregame warmups Saturday before deciding to sit out. On Monday he felt fine after pregame, and was able to play.
"I wanted to play last game [on Saturday], but I had to fight myself and just be careful and I really wanted to get a good workout," Gobert said. "[Sunday] I got a good up-and-down workout and made sure I was OK doing that. Same [Monday]. I went pretty hard in my pregame routine. Harder than usual just to make sure it doesn't stop creeping up on me, and I felt good."
The Wolves have played some slightly different styles, especially defensively, with Gobert on the floor. They will play more drop coverages whereas without him, they play more of a high-wall, hedging style defensively, the style they deployed most of last season.
After a choppy start to the season, the Wolves looked like they were starting to figure out how best to play with Gobert before the groin injury paused that process. Monday was a total team failure against the Rockets in Gobert's first game back, but his presence on the floor and the ways the Wolves operated were not the issues. Mental focus and preparedness were.
As the schedule gets tougher the next few weeks, they'll need to get back up to speed in all areas, and fast. It starts Wednesday night in New Orleans vs. the Pelicans, the fourth-best team in the West. The Wolves would have been sixth with a win Monday, but instead dropped to ninth.
"We're more mature than we were two months ago and I think two months from now we'll be more mature than we were," Gobert said. "We're going to be a much better team."