Chemistry on display for Utah Jazz in Saturday’s scrimmage victory
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was speaking with reporters after Saturday’s scrimmage in Orlando when one of his teammates chimed in:
“Not one time! Not two time! Three time!”
Donovan Mitchell was the one shouting, hyping his All-Star teammate’s Defensive Player of the Year candidacy. But Mitchell could have also been counting off the number of times he and Gobert connected on alley-oop dunks in the Utah Jazz’s 101-99 victory in a scrimmage with the Miami Heat on Saturday evening.
After months of tension — fueled by the All-Stars’ positive COVID-19 diagnoses in March and the reports and rumors regarding their relationship that followed — Mitchell and Gobert are back on a basketball court, ready to put an end to questions about their ability to play together.
“We try to do the right thing for the team and make plays for one another, screening and communicating on defense,” Gobert said when asked about his chemistry with Mitchell on Saturday. “Just try to do the little things to help the team like we’ve always done.”
Gobert and Mitchell have both admitted there was tension between them even before the two All-Stars tested positive for the novel coronavirus on March 11. But over the past few months, frustrations have waned. Gobert showed what Jazz executive Dennis Lindsey called “real vulnerability and some self-reflection” in an ESPN interview in which he acknowledged some of his faults that had fueled occasional locker room disagreements.
Mitchell, too, expressed regret that their relationship had been a distraction.
“I really wish that, going forward, that will be the primary focus — us jelling as a team,” Mitchell said in early July. “Obviously, Rudy and I had COVID, and whatever happened, happened. But now we’re ready to hoop and focus on the team as a whole.
“Right now, we’re good. We’re going out there ready to hoop. I think the biggest thing that kind of sucked was that it took away from the guys on the team, took away from what the guys on the team were trying to do.”
What the Utah Jazz want to do now is win, and everyone on the NBA campus in Orlando — Mitchell and Gobert included — knows the chemistry between the team’s All-Star duo is crucial to that mission.
Things certainly looked good on Saturday, as Mitchell weaved through Miami defenders and lobbed to Gobert for dunk after dunk after dunk. The center finished the scrimmage with 21 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
“Rudy was very good. I thought he made himself available and really Mike [Conley] and Donovan just did a terrific job of finding him,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said.
As Gobert sat through his post-game interview in the hallway of the HP Pavilion, Mitchell watched and playfully razzed his big man.
“Speak up! They can’t hear you!” Mitchell encouraged him.
Gobert smiled behind his mask.
A moment later, the was asked again about his relationship with Mitchell and whether the press had made too much out of the story.
“People didn’t have much to talk about for four months,” Gobert replied. “Now that we’re back playing, I think it’s time to put it behind. I get asked about it every day. I can understand. But I hope there are some more interesting topics now.”