Preseason is for the subplots. Friday night’s game, especially so.
Sure, there was a main storyline: The Jazz lost in their third preseason game of five by a score of 128-127 against the Pelicans. Utah took an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter, but a 29-9 run by the Pelicans against Jazz deep bench units turned the tide. A goaltending call on Jarrell Brantley led to the game-winning points for New Orleans with 1.4 seconds left.
But while a game occurred, everything mattered more than the score. For Jazz fans, seeing Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert squaring up for the game’s tip-off — Gobert won that initial tip — and battling it out for the game’s first five minutes was a little bizarre. Favors didn’t play in the second half, but during the first half, saw time matched up against Gobert and all of his old friends.
“It was fun. It was great to see him. It was a little weird to see him on a different team, but we wish him the best,” Gobert said. “I think he’s going to help that team a lot, he’s a very good player.”
It was also the Jazz's first chance to try out what could be their new starting five. Royce O'Neale got the start at the power forward position, while Joe Ingles came off the bench, playing point guard while Dante Exum and Emmanuel Mudiay are out with injuries. Mike Conley got to play with Gobert for the first time, and found the big man for two lob dunks.
And boy, did the offense ever hum. Donovan Mitchell and Conley both had seven assists in about 25 minutes each; Ingles led the team with eight assists from his bench role. Nearly every possession, the ball moved side-to-side, inside-out, then back in again. In fact, the thought was even repeated a few times postgame that the Jazz may have been too eager to pass — when the players have an open shot, they should shoot the ball.
“It is fun like tonight there was a few times where two or three straight possessions I was in the paint and could have laid it up, but there was a guy wide open in the corner, why not throw it to him?," Conley said. “Guys made shots and extra passes and it is contagious at that point.”
That also showed in the Jazz’s scoring distribution: Jeff Green was Utah’s leading scorer with 20 points while taking only nine shots, while O’Neale finished with 16 on only eight shots. Bojan Bogdanovic nearly matched O’Neale’s production — he finished with 15 points on eight shots as well, but it might have been Gobert who was most efficient: 15 points on 5-of-5 shooting. All in all, seven players finished with double figures.
The defense wasn’t as good, though, resulting in the loss. Bogdanovic said that there were frequent “miscommunications” between the team’s players, while Conley pointed to the players learning a new way to play defense as a contributing factor.
“I have to get used to just funneling guys in the paint, if you get beat, just stay on their hip and funnel them to the big fella (Gobert) and let him do what he does,” Conley said. “I’m so used to trying to stop everybody.”
For Pelicans fans, it was their first home preseason game, their first time to see No. 1 pick Zion Williamson in action. He got a raucous cheer as he was announced, and every time he approached the rim, the whole crowd buzzed in anticipation. Williamson is best known for his powerful dunks, but against the Jazz, he showed off a tantalizing amount of feel around the rim, bullying through Jazz defenders and then finishing through the contact. He finished with 26 points — taking only 12 shots — in his 23 minutes. Fellow rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker also looked great for New Orleans, scoring 22 points.
Williamson was also a part of what could be a trivia question in the future — though it’d have to be quite the specialized trivia contest. With 8:42 left in the second quarter, Williamson had the ball on a fast break and went up for the dunk, only for the Jazz’s Green to cleanly block the ball. The night’s refereeing crew called a foul, but Snyder took advantage of the new coach’s challenge option to overturn the call, turning a trip to the free-throw line into a jump ball that the Jazz won. It’s the first time the Jazz have used the system.
But after the fourth-quarter Pelicans bench run, and once the dust settled and the game ended, Favors met his former teammates at half court after the game, hugged them all, and had a brief chat with each. Here’s what he told Ingles:
“I wish y’all good luck. Y’all are going to be good this year, and I’ll be watching.”
As the Jazz move forward with their new guys, the old guard will stay connected.