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SALT LAKE CITY — The lights dimmed and a spotlight shone down on center court where Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were standing. Before Wednesday’s contest, the Jazz put on a small ceremony to celebrate their two All-Stars.
But the two weren’t looking ahead to the All-Star festivities this weekend in Chicago yet. In fact, they both put on the type of performances that got them there.
Mitchell and Gobert both admitted on Wednesday morning that a loss in the final game would have put a damper on the weekend. They made sure they didn’t have to worry about that.
Mitchell had 26 points, five rebounds and four assists, and Gobert had 16 points and 20 rebounds as the Jazz dominated the second half to beat Miami 116-101 at Vivint Arena.
With the win, the Jazz (36-18) head into the break winners of four straight — and this one was by far the most impressive of the streak. It also marked their two All-Stars' best performances.
Mitchell admitted that, over the last week, he has been pressing a bit. He hasn’t been letting the game come to him. And because of that, it hasn’t been too fun.
But he was having fun on Wednesday.
Mitchell smiled after he got stuck in the air on a drive and was forced to flick the ball up and somehow spun it in — one of three impressive drives in the third quarter.
He smiled when he nailed a stepback 3-pointer in the fourth that seemed to take the air out of the Heat.
And he smiled when he celebrated the win for the Jazz.
“It’s just having fun with the game. I haven’t been doing that the last few games,” Mitchell said. “Just fatigue, or just going back and have fun. I haven’t been doing that the last week or so. (I) went out there and just continued to have fun.”
Winning is fun — and it makes the small battles of the game fun too.
After the win, Gobert could laugh about how he got a technical foul when he avenged a Bam Adebayo dunk on him with one of his own. Not too mention, he also won the individual matchup.
Adebayo finished with 9 points and 11 rebounds, and the Jazz outscored the Heat by 23 points when he was on the court. Gobert was plus 23 on the night, and the Jazz had a defensive rating of 89 when he was on the court.
Most of the damage came in the second half when Utah outscored the Heat by 20.
“I think we were just tougher, mentally, in the second half,” Gobert said. “They’re a very physical team. I felt like in the first half, we were complaining a lot — whether it was fouls — I think they were being more physical than us. Second half, we were just mentally tougher and were just attacking.”
Mitchell scored 14 of his 26 points after halftime as the Jazz put up 69 points in the final two quarters. And with Gobert dominating on the defensive end, the Heat could no longer keep up.
But it wasn’t just Mitchell and Gobert.
Jordan Clarkson might not be going to Chicago, but he might be inching his way into the Sixth Man of the Year conversation.
Clarkson scored 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting, helping Utah gain the separation in the fourth quarter.
With the Jazz leading by just 3 points, Clarkson fueled an 8-0 spurt with two long straight-away threes within a minute of each other to give Utah some breathing room. Clarkson has now scored 20 or more points in five of the last eight games.
“Just taking it one day at a time, one game,” Clarkson said. “Just trying to continue to keep getting better and growing the team.”
Now that Wednesday is over, Mitchell and Gobert can fully look forward to the All-Star game. And with a win, they can fully enjoy it.
“You don’t want to go there after a loss,” Gobert said. “It always tastes a little sour if you do that. We talked to each other before the game — we were like, let’s play hard tonight and be able to enjoy the break so Coach can get some sleep too.”