Rudy Gobert puts on MVP-worthy performance — but doesn't get a chance to finish it

(David Banks, AP Photo)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Rudy Gobert made a bold statement almost immediately after being named an All-Star: “Whatever team wants to win will pick me.”

For the first three quarters of Sunday’s All-Star Game in Chicago, he showed why.

The Jazz center had 21 points and 11 rebounds putting him into MVP consideration. And then, he sat.

Gobert didn’t get a chance to prove his claim as he watched for the entirety of the exciting fourth quarter as Team LeBron came back to beat Team Giannis 157-155 in an All-Star Game that will and should be celebrated as one of the best in recent memory.

The new format — the teams competing to win each quarter for charity and then combining the totals of the first three quarters and playing an Elam Ending in the fourth with teams playing to a target score — was a major success.

In the final quarter, the intensity ramped up to near-playoff level. The game slowed down, the defense picked up and as the team’s inched toward the 157 target score, players argued calls, took charges and legitimately cared.

It seemed like the perfect recipe for a two-time Defensive Player of the Year who had looked like one of the best players on the court. Yet, Gobert could only watch as Team Giannis coach Nick Nurse rode with the same lineup as his team was outscored by 11 points in the fourth quarter.

“We’re here to have a good time,” Gobert said when asked about his thoughts on not getting back in. “I thought the guys in the fourth played great. We didn’t win, but we were very close to winning.”

How would the final possession have gone when Anthony Davis was fouled under the basket setting up the game-winning free throw (an admittedly anticlimactic ending to what had been a thrilling game)? That’s a question that will never be answered.

But even without Gobert participating during the competitive finish, he more than showed he belonged on Sunday. And, in what may have surprised many fans not very familiar with Gobert’s game, he ended up being one of the most entertaining players on Sunday.

In a game full of highlight plays, it takes something special to have the entire bench running onto the court in celebration.

Gobert did just that.

At the tail end of the second quarter, Gobert skied up and sent down a powerful one-handed putback slam that had the Team Giannis’ bench running out on the court and waving towels.

“The putback was pretty good,” Gobert said. “Even myself I wasn’t sure I was going to get that one.”

Near the end of the third, Gobert ran a beautiful pick-and-roll with Kyle Lowry that ended with him delivering a two-handed slam to give Team Giannis the lead. Then with just 2.2 left in the third, Gobert snuck to the baseline and caught a long pass from Trae Young for a game-tying dunk. With each quarter being its own individual competition, those were clutch plays.

Gobert was 10-of-11 from the field in his 18 minutes — all coming before the fourth.

“It was fun,” Gobert said. “I just wanted to give a little show for the fans and raise some money for the charity.”

And he may have changed some perceptions along the way. Yes, Gobert is a defensive menace — he showed that a bit on Sunday with two defensive stops near the rim in a single possession in the first half — but he mostly resorted to showcasing his NBA-record dunking ability.

“I think the fans love dunks,” Gobert said.

That was especially true of his alley-oop from Young in the second half that he finished with a reverse dunk. That play got the United Center buzzing.

And if you ask his All-Star teammate Donovan Mitchell — who had 7 points, five rebounds and four assists in 14 minutes in his All-Star debut — the people who still doubt Gobert can simply “shut up.”

“I think they should shut up,” Mitchell said. “If you look at his stat line — what did he have 21 and like 12 (11)? He went out here and blocked shots, he’s going to do his thing, he can fit in any game. People love to talk about, ‘Oh maybe he's not this’ and he’s been doing that since I got here. One day they’ll learn — maybe never. I always tell him, 'If you have people saying what you can’t do, you must be doing something right.'”

He did a lot right on Sunday. Too bad he didn’t get to do it at the end. But that fact didn't seem to bother Gobert.

“I just came here to enjoy myself and tried to show the people that look out for me — my family, the people from France, the people from Utah — and just tried to make them proud,” Gobert said.

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