SALT LAKE CITY — Rudy Gobert and Ricky Rubio both found themselves in national headlines on Friday morning for not the rosiest of reasons.
Gobert’s emotional display at the Utah Jazz’s shootaround over getting left out of the All-Star Game spread across the internet, and numerous outlets reported that Jazz brass has spoken to Memphis Grizzlies officials about a possible swap of Rubio and Mike Conley.
On Friday night, as Utah took on the Atlanta Hawks at Vivint Arena, both players rose to the occasion in a big way when the Jazz needed them most.
Battling a Hawks team that entered the night having won just 32 percent of its games on the year but has played better in recent weeks, Utah trailed 65-64 with 9:12 to go in the third quarter and struggled rather mightily to get stops.
But then Gobert and Rubio stepped up.
The Frenchman finished the third frame with nine points, seven rebounds and two blocks, while the Spaniard had 11 points, three assists and a rebound as the Jazz opened up a nine-point lead entering the fourth quarter and didn’t look back in their 128-112 victory.
For the night, Gobert had 25 points on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting with 13 rebounds, two blocks and an assist. In a duel with Atlanta standout rookie Trae Young, Rubio scored 22 points, dished 11 assists and added two rebounds and a steal.
Young scored a game-high 28 points after being named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for January a few hours before tipoff.
“We knew that we had to come out ready in the second half,” said Gobert, who picked up two fouls just over four minutes into the game. “We did a great job coming back after a rough first half and got some stops, which got us going offensively.”
Gobert acknowledged that he came out with some extra motivation Friday after not being named a Western Conference All-Star reserve on Thursday. In addition to being perfect from the field and controlling the paint, the Frenchman went 11-of-15 from the free-throw line as fans cheered, “All-Star” each time he went to the charity stripe.
“It means a lot,” he said of the chants. “It shows that they have my back. That’s what it’s about, and I know they do have my back. They don’t need to do that, but it’s fun. It makes it fun to be here, and even more when the fans care about it as much as they do.”
After scoring just five points in the first half, Rubio also found success on that end of the floor, but Utah head coach Quin Snyder pointed to his efforts on defense in the third quarter as a big reason the game shifted.
“Ricky played very well,” Snyder said. “He’s the guy that I thought really got better as the game went on defensively and just looking to set guys up. It was really a solid game overall for Ricky.”
Rubio felt the defensive improvement was mostly a matter of increased effort.
“I think we picked up the intensity,” he said. “We figured out how to really make an impact on the ball and don’t let them get anything easy. I think the second half was great, and we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing.”
While picking up the defensive effort was what allowed the Jazz to separate in the third quarter, they scored at least 32 points in the first, third and fourth stanzas. For the night, Utah shot 53 percent from the field compared to just 40 percent for Atlanta. The Jazz tallied 31 assists on 46 made baskets.3 comments on this story
Every starter scored at least 14 points, while Kyle Korver also had 14 off the bench and Jae Crowder added 13.
With the win and the Houston Rockets’ loss on the road to the Denver Nuggets, the two teams moved into a virtual tie for sixth in the Western Conference before they square off Saturday night at Vivint Arena.
According to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said point guard Chris Paul will “probably” sit out on the second leg of the back-to-back as he continues to return to full strength after suffering a hamstring strain in late December.