Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert suggests referees influenced by betting: ‘It’s hurting our game’

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CLEVELAND — Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert suggested sports betting is influencing how NBA referees are officiating games after one of them assessed him a technical with 27.8 seconds left in regulation of an eventual overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.

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

The Cavs went on to win 113-104.

“My reaction, which I think is truth — it’s what I truly believe — even if it’s the truth, it wasn’t the time for me to react that way,” Gobert said afterward. “I should have not done that. I cost my team the game, and obviously, they couldn’t wait to give me a tech. That was bad. That was an immature reaction.”

Asked to clarify what he believes, Gobert said: “I made some mistakes. I airballed a dunk. Mistakes happen. Referees make mistakes, too. But sometimes I think it’s more than mistakes. I think everyone that’s in this league knows. I think it’s got to get better.”

Gobert said he fully expects to be fined for his comments, for being “the bad guy again that speaks what I think is the truth.”

But he said he felt compelled to speak his mind because “I think it’s hurting our game.”

“I know the betting and all that is becoming bigger and bigger, but it shouldn’t feel that way,” Gobert said.

Gobert’s sixth foul was a loose-ball violation called against him when he and Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen were tangled under the Timberwolves’ basket, wrestling to corral a miss 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.

When Garland made the free throw following Gobert’s money signs gesture, the Cavs had a chance to win it in regulation but Naz Reid blocked Garland’s 3-point try. Edwards, playing with multiple minor injuries, threw up an air ball and the game went to overtime, where the Cavs dominated the extra session.

Allen scored a career-high 33 points, including going 15 for 21 at the free throw line, for Cleveland, and Garland poured in 34 points. Reid posted a career-best 34 points off the bench and tied a career-high with seven 3s for the Wolves, who played their second game since All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns went down with a torn meniscus. Edwards, one night after his game-saving block and head crash against a rim that went viral, scored 19 points but shot 7 for 27.

The loss dropped the Timberwolves (44-20) into 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.

“I thought the game was called pretty much the same way, both ways — I think both teams were a little bit frustrated, but that’s basketball,” said Minnesota assistant coach Micah Nori, who filled in for coach Chris Finch (illness).

Nori called Gobert getting a technical that late in a close game “unacceptable” on Gobert’s part.

“We just have to be smarter,” Nori said. “I think he made a visual or something, it’s kind of automatic. And we all know Rudy. There’s no more professional guy than him. In that moment, for him to do that, obviously he feels awful about it. We just gotta be a little bit better.”

As Gobert alluded, this is not the first time he has expressed dissatisfaction with officiating. He has made critical marks several times throughout his career, including several times last season.

Last March, after a loss in Phoenix, Gobert said, “I’ve been in this league for 10 years and I try to always give the benefit of the doubt, but it’s hard for me to think they’re not trying to help (the Suns) win tonight. It’s hard for me to think they didn’t try to help the Warriors win the other night or (the) Sacramento Kings the other night. It’s just so obvious. As a basketball player that’s been in the league for so long, it’s disrespectful and it sucks, to be honest.”

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 other major pro sports in the U.S., has embraced fans betting on its games, and in 2021 announced DraftKings and FanDuel as its two official sports betting partners.

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

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(Photo: Ken Blaze / USA Today)

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