SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Even after exiting the Golden 1 Center with a 39-point preseason victory less than a week ago, Utah Jazz players weren’t delusional enough to waltz back in the same place expecting the game to play out the exact same.
“At the end of the day, they’re an NBA team,” said Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell. “You can’t look at it as what the score was.”
And it didn’t.
Utah ultimately pulled out a 123-117 victory to start the 2018-19 regular season 1-0 against the Sacramento Kings, but not without a fight.
“In the NBA, every night’s different,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said ahead of the tip-off.
Unlike the preseason finale, the Jazz starters came out flat.
Sacramento opened the game on a 9-0 run, even leading by 16 in the first quarter until Snyder made some adjustments and got a spark from reserves Dante Exum, Alec Burks and Jae Crowder as Utah used a 21-9 run to close the quarter.
By halftime, they gained a 68-55 edge and held on to finish strong in the second half behind a team effort where seven players finished in double digits.
The Jazz responded in what Snyder described as a “tough” game behind a team-high 24 points from Donovan Mitchell, despite his 8-for-21 shooting effort, five turnovers and five fouls.
Joe Ingles also posted 17 of his 22 points in the first half off four treys with six assists and four steals while reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert added 19 points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots.
“They came out motivated, energetic and I thought early in the game we weren’t sharp. We were a step slow,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of Sacramento. “They made some buckets early, we missed a few layups and I thought they got a lot of confidence and they just kept playing. They played very well.”
Sacramento seemed fired up from the home sellout crowd with 17,583 fans cheering. Hip-hop legend Rob Base performed at halftime while rapper B.o.B gave an additional postgame performance in the outside plaza after the game. Even Kings legend Chris Webber watched the game courtside with his former teammate Peja Stojakovic, who is now Sacramento’s current assistant general manager.
“It was a good effort,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “Guys competed, attacked — we had 34 points in the first quarter, got off to a quick start. Last week we had 34 points in the first half.”
Willie Cauley-Stein wasn’t afraid to go at Gobert, even slamming over him on one possession, to finish with 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists on 10-for-15 shooting. De’Aaron Fox logged 21 points with seven assists while Buddy Hield scored 19 points with six rebounds.
But Utah’s bench rotation of Exum, Burks and Crowder all contributed 13 points apiece with 27 of the 38 first-half points which proved to be big for the squad.
Jazz rookie Grayson Allen didn’t make his debut as he received a DNP-Coach’s decision and veteran Thabo Sefolosha missed his first of five games while serving his suspension for violating the league’s drug policy, but that didn’t matter.
With the Jazz roster so deep, Allen didn’t enter his first game with any expectations. Snyder is challenging him to improve defensively and the 21st overall pick isn’t pouting.
“I’m not like a big expectation guy,” Allen said. “I set goals but I don’t have expectations for myself. It’s kind of simple. It’s October now and then November when games come around, I want to be better than I am now and it’s the same goal at the end of the season, whatever month that is I want to be better than where I started the season.”
For Utah, the road doesn’t get easier as they head back home to Vivint Arena to face the defending champion Golden State Warriors on Friday, Oct. 19 at 8:30 p.m. MT on ESPN. Taking care of business in Sacramento was good, but now it’s time to move on to the next challenge.
“None of us are excited,” Gobert said. “We gave them confidence early in the game and once they had that they hit some tough shots. It’s all about starting the game better.”