SALT LAKE CITY — Even in a mask, you could see Rudy Gobert begin to smile.
The smirk was in response to a question about whether or not people —fans, media, everyone else — had made a little too much out of the beef between him and Donovan Mitchell.
“People didn’t have much to talk about for four months, so that was the topic of the moment,” Gobert said. “Now that we are back playing, I think it’s time to put it behind.”
And based on Saturday’s 101-99 scrimmage victory over the Miami Heat in the NBA bubble in Orlando, the two Jazz All-Stars have put it behind them.
Or at the very least, it’s not affecting their play on the court.
Three times on Saturday, Mitchell dribbled into the lane and then found Gobert for an alley-oop lob. And to drive the point home, Mitchell set a back screen allowing Gobert to slip into the paint unguarded for another dunk.
“We’re trying to do anything for the team,” Gobert said. “We’re trying to make plays for one another — passing to one another, screening, communicating on defense — just try to do all the little things to help the team.”
And that includes helping each other. Yes, there have been some rocky patches in their relationship — both on and off the court — but Saturday showed two teammates who are more than willing to work together.
Gobert finished with 21 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in a dominant performance. And with the likes Mitchell and Mike Conley feeding him lob after lob, it was no surprise that he ended the day shooting 8 of 9 from the field.
“Rudy was very good,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, “I thought he made himself available and really Mike and Donovan just did a terrific job of finding him.”
If you had forgotten how important Gobert was to the Jazz, the third quarter of Saturday’s scrimmage should serve as a reminder.
With 4:06 left in the period, Gobert went to the bench after leading the Jazz to a 13-point lead. The Heat had no answer for his rim rolls on offense and he had anchored a much-improved defensive effort from Utah’s first scrimmage.
But with him sitting, things unraveled — and unraveled quickly. In the final four minutes of the quarter, the Heat outscored the Jazz 13-2.
Good thing he’ll play a little more than the 23 minutes he did against the Heat when the games start to count starting next Thursday against the Pelicans.
Gobert looked back in midseason form. He was unguardable when he rolled to the hoop, finding open spots to throw down dunk after dunk. That opened up things for the Jazz too. With the Heat keying on Gobert in the third quarter, Conley was able to get hot, scoring 11 of his 17 points in the third quarter as the jazz pulled away.
“I thought we kind of touched a level that we haven't been on, especially defensively,” Snyder said.
While it was the Rudy Show on Saturday, Snyder, like he did on Thursday, let the end of the bench finish off the scrimmage against the Heat. And that allowed some of the young guys to get crunch time minutes.
And they came through in the end.
With 1:36 left, rookie Miye Oni hit a go-ahead 3-pointer and that was followed by a driving scooping layup by rookie Justin Wright-Foreman. Those buckets proved enough for the Jazz to hold on as Miami’s Solomon Hill missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Snyder said those minutes might prove beneficial as Utah continues to tinker with its rotation with the loss of Bojan Bogdanovic.
“Rotations are always different,” Snyder said. “I think, who plays for us could vary game to game, particularly just given the fact that you anticipate some matchup issues — hopefully, teams will have to match up against us as well.”
The Jazz are still trying to figure out just how to play without Bogdanovic. Snyder mentioned that if you take away Bogdanovic’s 3-point attempts then the Jazz would take the least amount of 3-pointers in the league. Snyder doesn’t want that; not by a long shot.
Utah has the shooters — Conley, Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Georges Niang, Jordan Clarkson, Royce O’Neale — to make up those numbers, but they might need to find different ways to get those shots.
“In order for us to absorb those eight threes and hopefully have more, I think we have to shoot off the dribble more,” Snyder said.
The Jazz, who put up on average 34.5 threes this season, shot 40 triples against the Heat on Saturday. They connected on 14 to shoot 35% from behind the arc. Both Clarkson and Niang were 4 of 9 from behind the 3-point line with Mitchell and Conley both shooting five apiece.
“They all want each other to attack and to shoot, so it's good when they're getting encouragement from us, and then getting encouragement for each other taking those shots,” Snyder said.
Clarkson finished with 17 points while Niang had 12 for the Jazz in the win.
The Jazz’s final scrimmage will be on Monday.