It wasn’t a lucid dream or a vivid hallucination: the NBA games that count were actually played on Thursday night for the first time in 20 weeks (141 days), and they were all we hoped they were. Utah Jazz started the night by defeating the Pelicans of New Orleans, 106-104, and the Los Angeles Lakers got a 103-101 victory over the Clippers in the nightcap. Both games went to the limit and the intensity was evident although there were no fans in the arena.
In addition to the big games, the stars have gone out to play. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Anthony Davis scored all 28 points or more, while LeBron James fought on a hard night scoring a goal in the fourth quarter. We also took a brief look at Zion Williamson, who was very good in a few minutes (three or four at a time to start each quarter) as he continues to get his conditioning back on track.
Here are the best moments of the NBA reopening evening, and here is a complete and healthy rest of the season.
Everyone kneels for the hymn
It has been reported that players and coaches from both teams would have knelt before the first game of the NBA season, and that’s exactly what we saw from Jazz and Pelicans. Everyone on the pitch knelt during Jon Batiste’s exciting performance to create a powerful image.
The Lakers and Clippers followed suit in the second game of the evening, locking their arms as they took one knee while the anthem played.
Social justice is the center of attention
Before both games, a montage of NBA players and coaches defending justice played in the arena. The video showed players like Celtics winger Jaylen Brown, Blazer Trail guard Damian Lillard and Pelican guard JJ Redick discussing the events of the past few months.
LeBron plays the hero … twice
James had a somewhat slow start, at least in terms of scoring, but in the end he made up for it. First, he made the winning shot following his defeat with just under 13 seconds to play.
The king was not made, however, while watching over both Kawhi Leonard IS Paul George to help the Lakers stop on final possession to block the win.
James finished with 16 points in 6-of-19 by shooting along with 11 rebounds, seven assists and five turnovers, but once again he showed his greatness by coming to the clutch in what was an otherwise poor game.
Gobert gets the first and last buckets
It is only fitting that the player whose positive COVID-19 test ended the championship in March scored the first basket of recovery on Thursday. Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who apologized for his dismissive attitude in the early days of the pandemic, took a big step forward to score a layup on Derrick Favors for the first points on the bubble.
Interestingly, Gobert also hit the game’s winning free throws with 6.9 seconds remaining: the end points from the first game of the NBA restart. The big ended with 14 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in the win.
Are they virtual fans?
The NBA has unveiled an interesting way to keep fans connected and things seem (somehow) normal in the arena: virtual fans! Video feeds of dozens of home team fans who watched remotely were displayed on the large monitors around the arena. Unfortunately for pelicans and Lakers, there were still some empty seats.
The first silently silent crush of Zion
The chemistry between Lonzo Ball and Zion Williamson returned immediately, with Ball throwing a perfect lob that led to Zion’s first dunk of the NBA restart. The consequences, however, were somewhat disappointing. There was a brief moment of near silence after the dunk before the artificial noise of the crowd entered, quickly reminding us that these are not the NBA games we are used to.
Even Zion can pass
Not to think that Zion Williamson is nothing but a dunk, he showed off his feathery touch and agility by letting a sweet help fall behind his back to Lonzo Ball for a lay-up early in the third quarter.
There’s really nothing this guy can’t do on a basketball court. He finished with 13 points in 15 minutes in 6-of-8.
Davis cleans the glass
Anthony Davis had an extraordinary return, accumulating 14 points in the first quarter for the Lakers en route to a high score of 34 points. The highlight was this two-handed dunk that would have made the crowd go … if there had been a crowd.
Warm welcome for waiters
The Lakers were a little thin on guard with Avery Bradley giving up on the reboot, but on Thursday Dion Waiters had his first crack in filling some of those minutes. He seemed at ease on the pitch and dazzled with a quick spin move and pose in the lane.
He also received a nice reaction from teammate JaVale McGee, who could not contain his excitement on the bench.
The waiters finished 11 points, three rebounds and two assists in 21 minutes in his first action with the Lakers.