Rudy Gobert knocked down two free throws with 6.9 seconds remaining as the Utah Jazz defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 106-104 in the first regular-season game of the NBA's 2019-20 restart at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida.
Pels forward Brandon Ingram had a good look from three-point range as time wound down, but the ball rattled in and out.
Jordan Clarkson led the Jazz with 23 points off the bench, and Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell each had 20. Ingram guided the Pels with 23 points.
Pels superstar rookie Zion Williamson scored 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting in just 15 minutes as he works his way back into game shape.
Williamson left the NBA's campus July 16 for what the team termed an "urgent family medical matter." He returned last Friday but had to go into a four-day quarantine amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Williamson was free to leave quarantine before Thursday's game, although Pels head coach Alvin Gentry said pregame that he planned to play the star in "short bursts" as he and the rest of the league come back following four-and-a-half months off the court.
Prior to the game, all players, coaches and referees knelt during the national anthem, and players wore Black Lives Matter shirts:
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, "I respect our teams' unified act of peaceful protest for social justice and under these unique circumstances will not enforce our long-standing rule requiring standing during the playing of our national anthem," per Leah Asmelash and Jill Martin of CNN.com.
The 42-23 Jazz are fourth in the Western Conference. The 28-37 Pels fell to 11th, four games behind the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
Jazz SG Donovan Mitchell: 20 PTS, 5 REB, 5 AST, 3 STL
Jazz C Rudy Gobert: 14 PTS, 12 REB, 3 BLK
Jazz SG Jordan Clarkson: 23 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL
Jazz PG Mike Conley: 20 PTS, 4 AST
Pelicans PF Zion Williamson: 13 PTS, 1 AST
Pelicans SG JJ Redick: 21 PTS, 4 REB, 3 AST
Pelicans SF Brandon Ingram: 23 PTS, 8 REB
Pelicans SG Jrue Holiday: 20 PTS, 5 REB, 4 AST, 3 STL
Jazz Overcome 16-Point Deficit
The first game of the NBA's restart did not disappoint as the Jazz overcame a 16-point second-quarter deficit to defeat the Pels.
Utah went into halftime down 60-48 but crawled within eight points before the fourth.
On offense, the Jazz received contributions everywhere to chop down the lead, including buckets from Conley and backup big man Tony Bradley.
But the Jazz defense took over the game, holding the high-flying and scoring Pels to just 17 points in the final 12 minutes.
New Orleans went four minutes and five seconds without scoring a field goal midway through the fourth, allowing the Jazz to take a 98-97 lead following a Mitchell two-pointer.
The Jazz never trailed the rest of the way, though the Pels tied the game twice, once on a Redick three-pointer and again on a pair of Ingram free throws.
The latter points tied the game at 104, and it looked as though New Orleans might have the last shot after Conley missed a layup with 19.7 seconds left. However, Conley rebounded his own miss, and 10 seconds later, Mitchell found an open Gobert, who was hacked by Derrick Favors as he went to the hole. The big man did his job at the line, but the Pels nearly pulled it off after Ingram created enough space for a quality look with time running down.
The shot was no good, though, and Utah escaped with the win.
Zion Dominates in Limited Action
Williamson made a clear imprint on the game in just 15 minutes. He showed zero signs of rust despite not playing an NBA game since March, as well as leaving the NBA campus and missing practices and scrimmage because of an urgent family matter.
Williamson played bully ball down low as usual, muscling his way into the paint for easy buckets:
He showed his chemistry with Lonzo Ball as the two connected on an alley-oop:
The same went for his connection with Holiday:
His most impressive play may have been a pass, however, as Williamson dropped a smooth behind-the-back pass to Ball for two:
The Pelicans may have lost, but the future still looks bright with Williamson in the mix. Presumably, he'll receive more playing time as New Orleans advances through the remainder of its eight games. The Pels will need everything they can get from Williamson as they fight for a playoff berth.
Both teams will play Saturday.
The Jazz take on the Oklahoma City Thunder at 3:30 p.m. ET, and the Pels face the Los Angeles Clippers at 6 p.m.