Vivint Arena looked different.
Of course it did.
It had to.
There were masks and empty seats and a digital roar in place of the one 19,000 strong usually makes here. But in the Utah Jazz’s first game on their home court in nine months, it didn’t take long to catch glimpses of the familiar.
There was Donovan Mitchell scoring early.
There was Bojan Bogdanovic splashing 3s.
There was Jordan Clarkson catching fire, Rudy Gobert patrolling the paint, and Joe Ingles finding Derrick Favors for an easy bucket.
“Everybody’s going through it. The circumstances are unique. There are a lot of people that have done a lot of work to allow us this opportunity,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “But when you get on the floor, it’s worth it. I think everybody’s excited about the opportunity to play and appreciates that we get to do this when there are a lot of people hurting in our country right now. If there’s something we can do to lift spirits, we want to do that.”
The Jazz delivered in that regard Saturday night, beating the Phoenix Suns 119-105 in their first of three preseason games.
Utah led 62-51 at halftime and head coach Quin Snyder left nearly all of his starters on the bench in the second half of the tune-up.
Clarkson scored 15 points, all in the first half, to lead the Jazz. Mitchell had 12 and Bogdanovic scored 11 in his first action since returning from season-ending rest surgery in May. Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss scored 15 points as the Jazz reserves held off the Suns in the second half.
“I like what we’ve been doing in practice,” Gobert said. “We haven’t reached the level we can reach but we will if we keep the right mindset and keep getting better and better.”
It was the Jazz’s first game at Vivint Arena since March. With a limited number of people in attendance, masks and social distancing practices in effect, there was certainly a different vibe from preseasons past. But Snyder credited the NBA and the team’s work to keep players safe and healthy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s clear with everything that was done in the Bubble to protect the players and let us play: there’s so much thought that goes into this,” Snyder said. “Commissioner Adam Silverr and his leadership have been terrific. … I know it’s challenging for all of us but it’s worth it.”
Jordan Clarkson showed exactly why the Jazz rewarded the shooting guard with a new multi-year contract over the offseason. Clarkson came off the bench and hit five 3-pointers and led the Jazz with 19 points in 22 minutes of action.
JC = a walking bucket pic.twitter.com/fOWKgPO0PG
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) December 13, 2020
The Jazz were one of the league’s top 3-point shooting teams a season ago, and Snyder has asked his players to shoot even more this season. The Jazz responded by firing up 41 attempts from deep on Saturday night. The team connected on 41 percent of them.
“They’re not always going to be there but we have to do our best to try to create them,” Snyder said. “And when we’re open, especially on catch-and-shoot 3s, that’s something we’re confident in our guys doing. They’ve embraced that and need to keep doing that.”
Second-year wing was tasked with guarding Phoenix’s Devin Booker for stretches Saturday night. Booker can give even the most talented defenders fits, but Oni held his own. Afterward, the Jazz forward said he was focused on making things difficult for Booker and keeping him off the free throw line. Booker attempted just five free throws on the night.
Joe Ingles missed his pick-and-roll partner Derrick Favors a year ago. On their first possession together on the floor, Ingles found Favors for an easy bucket. The Aussie wing finished with a game-high seven assists.
• Derrick Favors made his return to Vivint Arena, a place he had called home for most of his NBA career.
“I definitely feel great to be back in Utah,” he said. “I feel great to be back with the Jazz and just kind of get back to what I was doing before.”
This time around, though, Favors will do that in a different role. The center will likely start some games this season based on matchups, but Snyder envisions Favors bringing his toughness and talent to the second unit.
“Derrick has been excellent playing the five,” he said. “He’s so good in pick-and-roll and really his rim protection with our bench is one of the things we missed.”
• Guard Mike Conley and Royce O’Neale were both held out of action Saturday night, giving Georges Niang an opportunity to start. Newly signed guard Shaq Harrison was also sidelined as he continues to work his way back from a hand fracture he suffered during an offseason pickup game.
The Jazz and Suns will tip it up again Monday night, a preseason rematch at Vivint Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. MT.