We waited four and a half months for Jazz basketball to return, and it did not disappoint. In a game that was definitely on-brand for Jazz-Pelicans matchups this season, the NBA’s opening game came down to the ending seconds, and was quite the riot.
But before the Utah Jazz and the NBA resumed their 2020 season in tonight’s opening game, they made it clear the emphasis that they want to keep on the social justice reform and equality for all. Every player and staff member of both the Jazz and Pelicans took a knee with arms interlocked during the national anthem, in a moment that you could really feel was a big one for the NBA, sports, and humanity in its entirety.
Every player, coach and ref takes a knee during the national anthem before the Pelicans-Jazz game pic.twitter.com/LZy1A6s8VM— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 30, 2020
After the anthem, the players took the court with their social justice messages on their jerseys, and just like that - the NBA was back.
The game itself was quite the roller coaster. The Jazz hopped out to an early 19-8 lead an a 10-0 run, and were looking like they were destined for an NBA championship. They quickly came back to earth, as the bench squandered this lead in a hurry, and the Pelicans finished the first quarter on a 18-4 run regaining the lead. During this seven-minute stretch, some of us were probably questioning whether we really wanted Jazz basketball back. They finished the last seven minutes of the first quarter without a made field goal, and things got ugly in a hurry. They would get down by as much as 16 in the second quarter and were unable to get any of their shots to fall for the majority of the first half.
Despite some really ugly stretches, the Jazz kept playing hard and hung in the game just enough to make a run to get things close in the fourth quarter. Down seven with six minutes remaining, Jordan Clarkson hit a huge three off a screen and cut the lead to four. The next possession down Clarkson had a beautiful drive and dish to Gobert who finished at the rim. Royce O’Neale got in on the action a few possessions later cutting the lead to one, and Donovan Mitchell had a smooth layup off the glass that gave the Jazz the lead, just like that.
The game remained either tied or within one possession through the final remaining minutes, reminding all of us the true anxiety that comes with being a fan of the Utah Jazz. In the final seconds with the game tied, Donovan Mitchell had a fancy drive to the rim, and spotted an open Gobert after beating his defender and drawing Derrick Favors away from Rudy at the rim. Donovan hit Rudy who was fouled, and went to the line with the game hanging in the balance. Rudy stepped up, and with the world watching, hit two free-throws that sealed the win, and gave the Jazz the first win inside the NBA bubble.
For the majority of tonight’s game, the Jazz didn’t really play like the better team. It’s important to realize that this was A- their first game in over four months, and B- their first game in a while without their sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic. The offense definitely seemed to struggle during streches that Bogdanovic would have really came in handy.
Jordan Clarkson led the Jazz with 23 points off the bench on 8-17 shooting (1-8 from three) and was absolutely critical in keeping the Jazz in the game during their worst moments. Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley had 20 points a piece, with Mitchell adding 5 assists and 5 rebounds. Rudy Gobert did his thing defensively, impacting the game in only ways that he can, with 14 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
It’s obviously great to start off the bubble games with a win, and inch closer to a higher playoff seed. If the Jazz are going to make a run in the playoffs however, they have a lot of issues that will need to be addressed, most importantly trying not to get absolutely shredded when Rudy Gobert isn’t on the floor. They will need a little more from guys like Georges Niang, Emmanuel Mudiay and Tony Bradley, who were a combined 2-10 tonight. We all knew there were going to be rough spots, but overall this Jazz-Pelicans game was really fun to watch. More than anything, it’s just great to have the NBA and Jazz basketball back in our lives.