After all that preseason craziness in which it appeared left was right, up was down, and the Jazz were suddenly incendiary on offense and maybe incapable on defense …
Well, they were pretty much their old selves in Wednesday night’s season opener against Oklahoma City, getting just enough timely scoring, just enough stingy stops, and just enough Donovan Mitchell insanity to rally and pull out a closer-than-many expected 100-95 victory over the Thunder.
“Man, that was a big win, and big for us in the sense that, obviously, we didn’t shoot the ball very well,” said new guard Mike Conley, who himself shot 1 for 16. “Most of us had a rough night. But Donovan really came through in the end — offensively, defensively. We just stepped it up.”
It was hardly an uneventful night at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Conley missed his first 12 shots from the field. New forward Bojan Bogdanovic was half-carried to the locker room in the second quarter after twisting his left ankle. New starter Royce O’Neale appeared to perhaps break a finger going for a steal right before the half.
Conley would eventually convert a basket, and both Bogdanovic and O’Neale would return in time to start the second half.
In the end, though, was that familiar old trope of getting wide-open looks and failing to convert them. Utah wound up shooting just 44.4% for the game, and hit only 6 of 24 attempts from 3-point range (25.0%).
JAZZ 100, THUNDER 95
• Donovan Mitchell scores 32 points — including 14 in the fourth quarter — as Utah rallies from an eight-point deficit in the final minutes.
• The hyper-efficient offense of the preseason disappears, as Mike Conley shoots 1 for 16 overall, and the team hits only 6 of 24 from deep.
• Emmanuel Mudiay has a nice game off the bench to spell a foul-plagued Conley, totaling 12 points and five assists.
Of course, there were some same-old, same-olds of a more positive nature — like, say, Mitchell showing off his ridiculous athleticism and hitting one absurd, contortionist layup after another to the tune of 32 points (despite not officially taking a field-goal attempt until the second quarter) to go along with 12 rebounds and three assists. And Rudy Gobert delivering another strong effort down low (seven points, 14 rebounds, and one block), as OKC shot just 38.6% for the game.
“Running back in transition, rebounding, communication, and just playing defense and competing,” Gobert said when asked what made the difference down the stretch. “This is a very talented team, an aggressive team, and we were able to keep them under 100.”
Still, while it was never in doubt that there would be much work to be done with this team, those inadequacies led to plenty of nervous energy from the home crowd throughout the night.
In the second quarter, it was an inability to find any rhythm on the offensive end until the closing minutes before the half. In the third, it was a momentary inability to contain Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — OKC’s prized return in the Paul George trade — whose blistering speed and did-you-see-that? dribble moves paved the way to 26 points in his Thunder debut.
In the fourth, though, after falling behind by as 76-68, it was finally time for the home team to turn that nervous energy into raucous celebration.
A 17-4 Jazz run ensued, highlighted by new guard Emmanuel Mudiay hitting Bogdanovic with a sweet bounce in the left corner for a net-swishing trey that gave Utah an 85-80 advantage.
And almost every time OKC closed the gap, the Jazz responded with a big bucket. Mitchell drove the lane for a layup; new starter O’Neale (who finished with 14 points on 6-for-6 shooting) drained a 3; Mitchell rebounded his missed floater midair and banked the put-back home. The third-year guard’s dribble-drive pull-up from right elbow with 21 seconds to play put the Jazz up five.
Conley sealed it moments later with a pair of big free throws.
“I’m a big believer in just getting a rhythm. I want that to carry over to the next game,” he said. “… I’m a confidence guy. I’m still confident, and looking forward to the next one.”
So too, is coach Quin Snyder, who saw plenty of imperfection, but also plenty of progress.
“That was a gritty, gutsy team win,” he said. “… The feeling that I had during the game was the transition defense in the first half was not good. And they got to the rim. The second half, particularly in the fourth quarter, we made it harder. Rudy was really good at the rim, and when he could get set, it made everything hard.”
After falling behind 76-68 in the fourth, the Jazz rally with a 17-4 run, capped by Emmanuel Mudiay throwing a bounce pass to Bojan Bogdanovic, who drilled the open corner 3.
12 • New point guard Mike Conley missed his first dozen attempts from the field before finally getting one to drop. He finished 1 of 16 overall and 0 of 6 from 3-point range.
The Jazz will fly to Los Angeles on Thursday for their first road game of the season, which comes Friday night against the Lakers.