After weeks and months of anticipation, the NBA season resumed on Thursday evening with a battle between the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans in Orlando. Prior to tip-off, the players, coaches and referees involved in the game took a knee during the national anthem and, with plenty of excitement about basketball, it was clear that there was a bigger focus on issues extending well beyond the court. Still, there was a game to play and, after 48 minutes on opening night, the Jazz emerged with a 106-104 after a last-second defensive stand.
In what was certainly an ironic twist, it was Rudy Gobert that garnered the first bucket of the restart. From there, the first points of the bubble journey for the Pelicans were tallied by none other than Zion Williamson.
The Jazz enjoyed a (very) strong start, using a 10-0 run to take an early 11-point lead and seemingly grab full control of the proceedings.
That was the extent of the positive mojo in the first half for the Jazz, though, as the Pelicans awakened in short order. New Orleans closed the first quarter on an 18-4 run to claim the lead and, along the way, veteran guard J.J. Redick delivered a startling move that drew plenty of attention.
After only a short burst of playing time in the first period, Williamson made an appearance to begin the second quarter, and he almost immediately converted a dunk off a lob from Lonzo Ball.
New Orleans extended the lead to as many as 16 points late in the second quarter and, by halftime, the Pelicans owned a 12-point advantage. While there was plenty to like, Brandon Ingram was a notable standout for Alvin Gentry’s team, scoring 15 points and grabbing six rebounds in the first half.
On the Utah side, things were ugly, including a 15-for-45 shooting clip from the floor and 4-for-20 from three-point distance. Fortunately, the Jazz did receive a jolt coming out of halftime, climbing within six, but Williamson again left his mark with a big-time dunk and a beautiful assist.
The Pelicans threatened to run away a bit, reclaiming a double-digit lead, but the Jazz were feisty. Utah scored five points in 12 seconds to prompt a timeout from New Orleans with the scoreboard reading 75-69 late in the third quarter.
New Orleans weathered the charge, in part due to back-to-back threes from Redick, but it was clear the Jazz found something in attacking the rim against the Pelicans. Utah kept the pressure on, slashing the lead in the middle portion of the fourth quarter, and the onslaught continued. In fact, the Jazz took the lead with approximately four minutes remaining, overcoming a sizable deficit and making things exceptionally interesting.
The end was an exercise in back-and-forth basketball, including what transpired in the final minute. Donovan Mitchell converted a pair of free throws to give Utah the lead with 48 seconds left but, on the next possession, Ingram answered with free throws of his own to tie it. On cue, Mike Conley did miss a shot for the Jazz but, after an offensive rebound, Mitchell broke down the Pelicans’ defense and flipped the ball to Gobert, who was fouled.
The big man buried both free throws with 6.9 seconds remaining, giving Utah a 106-104 lead. New Orleans then had one final chance to steal a win but Ingram’s contested three-point attempt went begging, giving the Jazz the win.
All told, it was a highly entertaining and strong start to the NBA’s restart, with a pair of intriguing teams putting on a show for 48 minutes. For the Jazz, it was a positive result to kick off what they hope to be a lengthy journey. On the Pelicans side, this is a disappointing loss, not only because the team blew a 16-point lead, but also with an eye toward an uphill battle for New Orleans in order to garner a playoff berth in the Western Conference.