Chicago • Through three quarters of play, Rudy Gobert — yes, that defense guy — was in serious contention to bring the Kobe Bryant All-Star Game MVP trophy back home to Salt Lake City.
He had a 21-point, 11-rebound double-double. He was the second-leading scorer on Team Giannis at the time, and the third-highest in the game. And his dominant third period — 12 points on six dunks — staked Team Giannis to a 133-124 lead — putting them within 24 points of an Elam Ending victory.
And then, in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line … he didn’t play a second.
Rather than express disappointment or frustration afterward about not getting a chance to put the game away, though, he was exceedingly level-headed about it all — even praising the closing lineup of Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Pascal Siakam, Kemba Walker, and Kyle Lowry that coach Nick Nurse deployed.
Asked if he though he should have been in at the end, he replied, “Not really, not really.
“I wasn’t a starter. Coach went with the guys he wanted to put in, and I thought we had a very good lineup down the stretch,” he added. “… I was just here to have a good time, and I thought the guys in the fourth played great.”
With the fourth period untimed (save for the shot clock), and the winning team the first to reach 157 points (24 more than the leading team’s total after the third, as a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant), Gobert was reduced to standing eagerly on the sideline, cheering his teammates on, hoping for a victory.
Donovan Mitchell — Gobert’s teammate on both the Jazz and Team Giannis — also sat out the fourth, and said there was no controversy, that it was right that deference should be given to the starters and the guys with more All-Star experience.
“We kinda expected it, understanding that the stars would be left in. I don’t think either one of us was too upset,” Mitchell said. “I think when we’ve got more years and more experience, we can do that. We were just going out there and having fun.”
Fun was definitely had.
Especially by Gobert, given that many people had questioned whether a player with a defensive reputation even belonged in what typically amounts to an offensive showcase.
The center more than answered that.
He wowed the United Center crowd with a one-handed second-quarter throwdown of a missed Trae Young 3-pointer. Then in the third, he again brought the people out of their seats by going up high for a lob, twisting midair to catch it, and ramming home the reverse.
And while he was’t quite the challenge-everything defensive force he threatened he might be — at one point, he politely stepped aside for a LeBron James layup — he still proved to all the doubters that he belonged.
“I think that they should shut up,” Mitchell said. “You look at his stat line, what did he have — 21 and ? He’s perfectly fine out there blocking shots, doing his thing. He can fit it in the game. People love to talk about, ‘Oh, he’s not this, he’s not this,’ — they’ve been doing that since I got here. One day they’ll learn.
“He hears all that negative and all that stuff, and he enjoys it and embraces it,” Mitchell added. “He wears it like a cape. And then he goes out there and hoops.”
Gobert, however, said he didn’t feel like he was trying to show people anything at all.
“I don’t think you can prove something in an All-Star Game. I think you prove something by winning championships, and doing good things with your team,” he said. “But I definitely hope I made people proud and I inspired kids to one day tell themselves, ‘I can be whoever I want to be.’”