The NBA season is officially back as the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans tipped off the action in Orlando.
Jordan Clarkson led the Jazz with 23 points off the bench, while Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley Jr. added 20 points apiece, but it was Rudy Gobert who sealed the win, burying two clutch free throws with 6.9 seconds to go.
Rudy Gobert's go-ahead free throws put the @utahjazz ahead for good! #TakeNote #WholeNewGame pic.twitter.com/H4c8sIlnLM- NBA (@NBA) July 31, 2020
Here's five key takeaways from the season restart opener:
Donovan Mitchell ... the closer
After a slow start, Donovan Mitchell took over for the Jazz down the stretch, scoring 13 of his 20 points in the second half, including some big buckets in the final minutes.
The All-Star guard scored eight of the Jazz's final 10 points and set the table for Gobert's game-sealing free throws, penetrating the Pelicans' defence and dishing it off to the big man, who was fouled on a dunk attempt.
"We've been through tough stretches throughout the year. This was just trying to find our groove," Mitchell said postgame.
"We had it at the start of the game and after that it kind of went down downhill. They started to kind of dictate us, our game on both ends of the court. We started to just compete. You know, it's not always gonna go your way every night. As long as you keep fighting you'll find a way to get back."
Mitchell gave the Jazz their first lead since the first quarter (23-21) with this bank shot, which put them up 98-97 with four minutes to go:
Spida gives Utah the lead! 👀 pic.twitter.com/hTmlAjiaCW- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) July 31, 2020
He added five rebounds, five assists and three steals in 36 minutes, shooting 6-of-14 from the field and 2-of-4 from deep.
Is Mike Conley Jr. back?
Jazz point guard Mike Conley Jr. had his struggles during the regular season prior to the hiatus, battling a dip in form and a string of nagging injuries, but in his first meaningful game for the Jazz, he looked back to his best.
Conley Jr. recorded 20 points and four assists in 34 minutes on court, shooting 7-of-16 from the field and 2-of-7 from deep, controlling the tempo of the Jazz offence all night.
Mike in the lane gets his 18th point 🎤🏔#TakeNote | #WholeNewGame pic.twitter.com/CWqRvBrhgR- utahjazz (@utahjazz) July 31, 2020
Limited minutes for Zion
Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson curiously only played 15 minutes in their opener and was on the bench for the final seven minutes of the game.
Williamson had left the NBA bubble and recently completed his quarantine, finishing with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
"We wish we could have played Zion down the stretch," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said post-game. "But he had used the minutes that had been given to us. That's just the way it is. We weren't going to stick him back out there. Our medical team said we played for us to play him."
Brandon Ingram led the Pelicans with 23 points, while Jrue Holiday added 20 and JJ Redick 21 off the bench.
Jazz and Pelicans continue social justice message
Ahead of tip-off, both sets of players, coaches and officials kneeled during the national anthem while wearing shirts emblazoned with "Black Lives Matter."
"It's so important at this point for us to be unified and to be able to peacefully protest many of the critical things going on in our country right now," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said pregame.
"So tonight there is an opportunity to do that and continue to draw and bring awareness to the many challenges and the struggles we're all facing in terms of racial and social justice."
The @PelicansNBA & @utahjazz kneel for the National Anthem ahead of the NBA restart. pic.twitter.com/TCFolP06HM- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) July 30, 2020
With the win, the Jazz improve to 42-23, while the Pelicans drop to 28-37.
The Jazz will look for their second win in as many games as they take on the Oklahoma City Thunder, while the Pelicans will lock horns with the LA Clippers.
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