Chicago • Sure, it’d been a minute since either Rudy Gobert or Donovan Mitchell wasn’t on the court for the opening tip of a game they played in, but considering this was the 2020 NBA All-Star Game, allowances could be made.
What didn’t change is that once they did make their inaugural All-Star appearances, clad in red Team Giannis jerseys with No. 24 on the back, they did it together — at the 5:52 mark of the first quarter, for the record.
And so, in the end, not even the game’s ultimate result — a 157-155 comeback victory for Team LeBron — could dampen their enthusiasm for having made it here in the first place.
Afterward, both expressed hope they can come back and do it again.
“It’s great to be here, to be a part of this. I want to be one of the best players in the world. Obviously, I want to be here every year,” Gobert said.
“It was a blessing. I’m really, really excited to keep doing this, hopefully,” Mitchell added. “… The biggest thing for us was we were just excited. Whether I played one minute or the whole game, I’m not too upset. The fact that I’m here — you can’t describe the feeling.”
Each Jazz player got some opportunities to shine — though Gobert shone a bit brighter on this occasion. The big man was in MVP consideration for his performance, finishing with 21 points (on 10-for-11 shooting), 11 rebounds, two assists, and a block in 18 minutes, 50 seconds of game time — none of which came in the fourth quarter.
And for a guy who spent all week talking about winning, it was an altogether different word that kept coming from his lips afterward.
“It was fun,” Gobert said. “It was great basketball with great players. The fans and the energy were amazing. It was just fun.”
Mitchell, meanwhile, struggled to get much going — totaling seven points on 3-for-10 from the field, to go along with five rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a block in 14:16 of court time.
Clippers star Kawhi Leonard wound up winning the Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP award for helping to lead Team LeBron’s fourth-quarter comeback. He finished with a game-high 30 points on 11-for-18 shooting (including 8 of 14 from deep), seven rebounds, four assists, and two steals.
Mitchell’s initial “Welcome to the big time” moment came shortly after he entered the game. As he stood on the sideline waiting to inbound the ball, rapper J. Cole stood up and offered a bro hug — which was accepted, naturally.
Moments later, Mitchell became the first of the Utah duo to get on the scoreboard, draining a pull-up 3-pointer from the left angle.
Gobert, meanwhile, took a bit longer to acclimate to the up-and-down pace, but eventually contributed in some typically Gobert ways. A pass to Bam Adebayo for a dunk. A screen assist freeing up a Trae Young 3. Even two blocked shots — on the same possession (though only one was credited).
Perhaps even more fulfilling is that in a game many have argued has no place for a player of his particular style, he contributed what was arguably the highlight of the second quarter.
In the waning seconds of the period, Young backed up on the right side of the court for a 3-point attempt. As the off-target try caromed off the rim, Gobert snuck in untouched, leapt, extended his right arm backward, snagged the ball in midair, and threw it down — bringing the entirety of Team Giannis off the bench, howling in celebration.
Even he couldn’t quite believe it afterward.
“The putback was pretty good,” Gobert said, grinning widely. “Even myself, I wasn’t sure I was gonna get that one.”
While Mitchell didn’t got off the bench in the second, he did start the third. As he made his way from the bench to the court, he stopped in front of Hall of Fame center Bill Russell and shook the Celtic great’s hand.
Must’ve been some good karma transferred in the exchange, as the Jazz guard promptly got a pair of quick buckets driving the lane. Meanwhile, on the other end, he found himself checking Kawhi Leonard, then Luka Doncic, and finally LeBron James.
“The first quarter for me was just trying to get my legs. I haven’t done any basketball since the last game [the Jazz] played. I was trying to find my legs. You saw I missed that dunk — I really didn’t have much,” Mitchell said. “But then the second half, I felt like, I’m just gonna be the hardest-playing player on the floor.”
Still, though, the third quarter arguably belonged to Gobert, who finished with 12 points on six dunks in that period alone — including one on a buzzer-beating lob.
Neither saw the court in the fourth period, however.
With Team Giannis up 133-124 after three quarters, the new Elam Ending format meant that the first team to 157 points would win the game.
Team Giannis’ nine-point advantage did not last long, with Team LeBron evening the game up at 146-all, and then surging ahead 152-150.
The Elam Ending mostly did its job, producing more competitive play in the fourth and a taut race to the finish line, featuring a game-winning 3 waved off for an offensive foul, plus a review and a reversal of a goaltending call — right up until it was anticlimactically decided by the second of Anthony Davis’ two free throws.
Regardless, Mitchell, in the end, repeated his line that this weekend, he may as well have been a 13-year-old geeking out. No matter the loss, the experience was unforgettable.
“The first time I got nervous and it really hit me was when we had the All-Stars meeting, and there was everybody I grew up watching — LeBron, [Chris Paul], [Russell] Westbrook, James [Harden], and obviously I’m competing against these guys now,” he said. “To be on the same team with Giannis, that sort of hits you. You’re among some of the best guys in the league, and you’re one of them — that was pretty special.”