Quin Snyder, Rudy Gobert pick up an All-Star win. Now the real work begins for the Utah Jazz.

by Aaron Falk

On the sidelines, Quin Snyder scribbled on his white board, surrounded by his assistant coaches and the NBA’s best players. On the court, Mike Conley threw a lob from the logo. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, meanwhile, found themselves on the other end of highlight reel dunks.

The Utah Jazz were all smiles and all over the place on Sunday night in Atlanta, the league’s first-place squad represented better than any other team at the 2021 NBA All-Star game.

“It’s amazing when you look at where we started as a team seven years ago,” said Gobert, who had 10 points, seven rebounds and an assist in his second All-Star game. “If somebody would have told us we’d be at the All-Star game seven years later, we would have said we have a long way to go. With hard work and the trust we have in one another and the team and the organization, we’ve been able to enjoy the experience this year.”

Snyder, Gobert and Team LeBron won the first quarter, 40-39, ran away with the second quarter by a 60-41 margin, and claimed a 46-45 victory in the third. In the decisive fourth quarter, Snyder’s squad cruised to a 170-150 final score.

“It was a thrill just to look out on the court and see not just All-Stars but Hall of Fame players,” Snyder said. “To have a chance to be a part of that game, and to also see Rudy and Donovan and Mike, was really special.”

For Team Durant, Mitchell scored 15 points to go with four rebounds and four assists while Conley had three points, two dimes, a rebound and a steal.

“I was definitely more comfortable,” Mitchell said of his second All-Star appearance. “It’s a different kind of pick-up game when you’re playing pick-up with the best players in the world. You’re just trying to find your balance. For me, it was just going out there and being who I am and having fun. Hopefully I’ll be here for many years to come.”

On Sunday, Mitchell, his Utah Jazz teammates and coaches enjoyed the chance to do battle against each other. In the second half, Mitchell drove into the lane, saw Gobert standing there and decided it would be better to consider another option.

“I didn’t have the legs to try to dunk it,” Mitchell said. “So I realized it was probably not the smartest idea to go down there.”

Late in the game, Mitchell gave Gobert a playful bear hug to stop the big man from scoring an easy layup.

“We all talked a lot of trash,” Conley said. “We were just playing around and having fun. I really wanted to beat Rudy at the end of the night, but obviously they were the better team."

The Utah Jazz now want to make sure they’re the better team, that their stars are mentioned among the league’s best when it matters most, that the basketball world isn’t overlooking them when the season ends.

“We know it doesn’t matter how many games you win in the regular season,” Gobert said. “When the playoffs start, the real stuff starts. That’s when we’re going to see what we’re made of.”

Everything was fun and games at the league’s midseason showcase. The 14-year veteran Conley relished every moment of his first All-Star selection. Snyder rubbed elbows with the game’s greats. In the first quarter, Lakers forward LeBron James bounced a pass hard off the court, high into the air and into Gobert’s hands for rim-rocking dunk.

Would that be enough for Gobert and Mitchell to forget that James and Brooklyn’ Kevin Durant made them the last selections in the All-Star draft?

“I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t care to be honest with you,” Mitchell said when asked before the game. “At the end of the day, I made it to another All-Star game. Rudy made it. Coach made it. Mike made it. We’re here. Whether we got picked first or last, I’m definitely blessed to be a part of this. It’s a sign of the work our team has put in.”

The Jazz own a league-best 27-9 record at the season’s halfway point. But the Jazz’s leading-scorer knows that he and his All-Star teammates don’t always get the respect they deserve.

“People have been talking [expletive] about me for a while, saying I can’t do certain things coming up,” Mitchell said before game time on Sunday.

The two-time All-Star also reminded reporters that Gobert wears No. 27 because that’s how far the All-NBA center fell on draft night.

“Mike Conley has been overlooked for how many years?” Mitchell continued. “At the end of the day, that didn’t really affect us. We don’t play this game to seek the approval of him or anyone else. We play this game to try to win a championship.”

Even in defeat, Conley relished the opportunity as much as anyone in Atlanta. The point guard finished second to Golden State’s Steph Curry in the 3-point Contest, and got a chance jump for the tip off of the second quarter in the All-Star game.

“I wish I would have won the tip,” Conley said. “Outside of that, it was a great experience. A lot of fun. I really enjoyed the whole deal.”

But by night’s end, his focus had shifted toward the weeks and months ahead.

“I’ve always been concerned about winning first and how well we do as a team. That’s always been my first goal,” Conley said. “This year, with the way we’ve started and the way we’ve played we’re getting a lot of recognition for it and guys are getting rewarded for it. Those things come with winning. I’m happy to be part of team that’s been able to start the way we have. But we understand we don’t want to be the regular season champs. We have the bigger goal of winning a championship.

“The second half of the year is going to be a sprint. We have to be hitting on all cylinders if we’re going to have a chance of competing for that ultimate goal.”

Now the real work begins.

“At the end of the day, we play this game and get back to the second half of the season and get to it,” Mitchell said. “The goal isn’t to be the best team in February. It’s to be the best team in July.”

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