Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert suggests race-influenced referees: 'It affects our game'

CLEVELAND – Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert suggested sports betting affects how NBA referees officiate after evaluating a technical with 27.8 seconds left in regulation in Friday's overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Gobert was whistled for his sixth-and-a-point foul with Minnesota, and he responded by flashing the money sign with both hands — like he was Johnny Manziel in the end zone. Referee Natalie Sacco saw him do it and slapped him with a technical, sending Cleveland's Darius Garland for a foul shot that tied the game at 97.

The Cavs won 113-104.

“My reaction is, I think the truth — which I truly believe — is that even if it were true, this is not the time for me to act like that,” Gobert said. “I shouldn't have done that. I cost my team the game and, frankly, they couldn't wait to give me the technical. It was bad. It was an immature reaction.”

Asked to clarify what he believes, Gobert said: “I made some mistakes. I blew up a dunk. Mistakes happen. Referees make mistakes. But I think sometimes it's more than the mistakes. I think everybody in this league knows that. I think it should turn out well.

Gobert said he fully expected to be fined for his comments, saying, “I'm a bad boy who repeats what I think is true.”

But, he said, “I think it hurts our game” because he feels compelled to speak his mind.

“I know racing and everything that's getting bigger, but it shouldn't feel like it,” Gobert said.

Gobert's sixth foul was a loose-ball violation called against him when he and Cleveland's Jared Allen got tangled up under the Timberwolves' basket and wrestled to deal with a foul by Anthony Edwards. Earlier in the game, Gobert elbowed Allen in the ribs on a post move and was called for an offensive foul; Officials upgraded it to a Flagrant Foul-1 penalty after video review.

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The Cavs had a chance to win it in regulation when Garland made a free throw following Gobert's money sign gesture, but Nas Reed blocked Garland's 3-point attempt. Edwards, playing through several minor injuries, threw an air ball and the game went into overtime, where the Cavs dominated the extra session.

“I thought the game was called the same both ways — I think both teams were a little frustrated, but that's basketball,” said Minnesota assistant coach Micah Norrie, who coached Chris Finch (illness).

Norrie called getting a technical late in a close game “unacceptable” on Gobert's part.

“We have to be smart,” Norrie said. “I think he made a scene or something and it was kind of automatic. We all know Rudy. There's no one more professional than him. At that point, for him to do that, obviously he feels terrible about it. We've got to be a little bit better.”

As Gobert noted, this isn't the first time he's expressed dissatisfaction with his position. He has made critical comments several times in his career, including last season.

Last March, after the Phoenix loss, Gobert said, “I've been in this league for 10 years and I always try to give the benefit of the doubt, but it's hard for me to think that they didn't try to help (the Suns) win tonight. It's hard for me to think that they weren't trying to help the Warriors or (the) Sacramento Kings win the other night. It is very obvious. As a basketball player who has been in the league for so long, it's disrespectful and frankly disappointing.

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Sports betting is legal in 38 states, including Ohio, where there is a brick-and-mortar sportsbook at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, operated by Caesars. The NBA, like America's other major pro sports, has embraced fans betting on its games, and announced DraftKings and FanDuel as its two official sports betting partners in 2021.

The league office did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

Allen scored 33 points, including 15 of 21 at the free throw line, and Garland had 34 points. After All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns went down with a torn meniscus, Reid scored a team-best 34 points and tied a career high with 34 for the Wolves. Edwards, on a night when his game-saving block and head crash on a rim went viral, scored 19 points but shot 7 of 27.

The loss dropped the Timberwolves (44-20) to second place in the Western Conference, a half-game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder (44-19). The Cavs (41-22) are in a tight race with Milwaukee for second in the East.

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(Photo: Ken Blaze/USA Today)

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