Want more basketball in your inbox? Sign up for Marc Stein’s weekly N.B.A. newsletter here.
If LeBron James shoots a jumper but no fans are there to see it, did he shoot a jumper?
We kid. But on Thursday, the N.B.A. made its return at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., with several of its most visible stars, including James, Zion Williamson, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis taking part in a doubleheader. The games were sloppy — the rust after a four-month layoff was real — but they were nonetheless compelling, both of them coming down to the final seconds.
The most striking images came before the games, when members of all four teams kneeled during the national anthem. Several players wore “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts. The N.B.A. ran commercials with coaches and players expressing their desire to fight for social justice.
In the opener between the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans, the game came down to a final shot. Brandon Ingram of the Pelicans rimmed out a last second 3-pointer, and the Jazz pulled out a 106-104 win. Jordan Clarkson led the Jazz with 23 points off the bench.
The Los Angeles Lakers led for much of their game against their crosstown rivals, the Clippers. But like the opener, this game came down to the final possession. After James made a tip shot with 12 seconds left, Paul George missed a contested 3-pointer for the Clippers as time expired, much like at the end of the opening game. The Lakers won, 103-101.
Here’s how the Lakers beat the Clippers, and how the Jazz came back to beat the Pelicans.
Players kneeled during the national anthem.
The highly anticipated N.B.A. restart tipped off with a symbol of solidarity, rather than rivalry. Pelicans and Jazz players, coaches and staff kneeled together in front of a Black Lives Matter floor mural painted on the edge of the court as a wordless rendition of the national anthem by the musician Jon Batiste played.
It was the first of many demonstrations for social justice causes expected this season. The players across the 22 teams participating in the restart were allowed to replace their names on the backs of their jerseys with phrases related to social justice. On the floor today were “peace,” “equality” and “listen to me” among others.
And as the Compton Kidz Club sang the national anthem on a video screen before the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers tipped off later in the evening, both teams kneeled. Several players on both teams, including LeBron James, wore T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”
Commissioner Adam Silver had released a statement earlier in the night saying that the N.B.A.’s longstanding rule, which prohibits players from kneeling, would not be enforced.
In early June, James and a group of prominent Black athletes and entertainers — including Trae Young, Draymond Green, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Jalen Rose — announced that they would be starting a new group aimed at protecting African-Americans’ voting rights.
“Yes, we want you to go out and vote, but we’re also going to give you the tutorial,” James said of the organization, called More Than a Vote. “We’re going to give you the background of how to vote and what they’re trying to do, the other side, to stop you from voting.
How the Jazz beat the Pelicans
1st Quarter: The Pelicans close strong to take the lead.
Rudy Gobert, the first N.B.A. player known to have tested positive for the coronavirus, snagged the first points of the restart, swooping in with a shot from near under the basket after grabbing the ball from the tipoff.
Despite an early Jazz lead, the Pelicans took control in the last minutes of the first quarter, going into the second quarter up 26-23. Pelicans guard JJ Redick put in the work that pushed the Pelicans ahead, shining with his notorious 90 percent sink rate and a clean assist to guard Jrue Holiday to close the gap.
Zion Williamson got going with a few buckets in the quarter. He averaged 23.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in 19 games this season.
Halftime: New Orleans is clicking.
Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry vowed to use Zion Williamson in “short bursts” after Williamson missed so much practice time recently tending to an urgent family matter. But New Orleans’ other stars have clicked quickly to compensate for the limited minutes. Brandon Ingram (15 points) and Jrue Holiday (12 points) have complemented Williamson’s 9 points on 4-for-4 shooting in just seven minutes. It’s been sharp offensive start for the Pelicans in building a 60-48 lead, as they seek to build early momentum in their quest to wrest the West’s No. 8 seed away from Memphis.
Ah, one point of familiar comfort in an N.B.A. broadcast: the TNT analysts Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith bantering with host Ernie Johnson at halftime. They sat socially distanced, with dividers between one another on set at a very long table.
“They could have the Last Supper on this table,” Barkley joked.
Barkley said that normally, the group would be watching the game together in the same room. Now, they had to watch by themselves in individual rooms. They all acknowledged the awkwardness.
“I’m not used to watching games like this,” O’Neal said. He added, “I really have to concentrate.”
3rd Quarter: The Jazz won’t go away.
The Pelicans’ lead tightened, 87-79, as the Jazz upped their offensive game in the third with help from a few 3-pointers — with Utah’s Royce O’Neale coming in hot toward the last three minutes of the quarter. But Utah’s success in the paint really sealed its comeback.
Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson and the Pelicans’ Ingram led the board with 18 points a piece. Lonzo Ball, the Pelicans point guard, leads the game in assists. And Gobert — despite being benched with a little over two minutes left on the clock after taking a foul from JJ Redick — still led in rebounds. New Orleans had 20 fouls by the quarter’s end.
Zion Williamson tossed clear assists to both Jrue Holiday in a dunk and Lonzo Ball for a layup early in the third, proving the 20-year-old’s chemistry is intact in his 20th career game. Redick also landed two 3s, holding the Pelicans’ lead.
A considerable concern for many teams after just three weeks of full-speed practices was their readiness for games that count and how ugly the product might look early. Utah was shooting 24.1 percent from the 3-point line through three quarters (7-of-29) and had committed 15 turnovers, with Donovan Mitchell shooting just 4-of-11 from the field for 12 points. The Jazz, though, entered the final period trailing by just 8 points, despite their up-and-down offense.
Take a look: Zion in action.
4th Quarter: The Pelicans give up a big lead and lose to the Jazz.
The N.B.A.’s first game amid the coronavirus pandemic ended with a gripping back and forth for a Jazz victory over the Pelicans, fitting for the novel atmosphere the game was played in. Tied with 7 seconds left, the win was decided by Rudy Gobert’s t