Sarah Todd covers the NBA and Utah Jazz for the Deseret News.
The Utah Jazz beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 107-86 in the first game of the 2021-22 season for both teams.
I have good news for everyone: The Jazz’s core is still very, very good at basketball. Bojan Bogdanovic scored 22 points, Jordan Clarkson finished with 18, Donovan Mitchell chipped in 16, Rudy Gobert added 16 points and 21 rebounds, Joe Ingles had 14 points and Mike Conley added an easy 10. The Jazz are still working through incorporating their newer players, but the chemistry of that core of familiar faces was as good as ever in their first outing of the season.
Probably more important than any of the scoring of that group was their defensive effort across the board. The perimeter held up better than expected and there were things to be happy about, from Bogdanovic being a loud communicator on that side of the ball, to the effort and intensity of Mitchell and Clarkson. Persistence seemed to rule the day, and that’s a great sign in the first of 82.
Hassan Whiteside might have been a little foul happy, but his first defensive possession, after checking in midway through the first quarter, resulted in two blocks and forcing an OKC turnover. He seems to be getting the feel for the Jazz’s ballhandlers a little bit better. That’s progress.
Gobert had quite a few strong finishes at the rim and a finger roll that was completed with finesse, and that was a little surprising. He talked about working on his touch over the summer and though this is just a sample size of one game, he looked dominant and in control.
Mitchell started the game slow on the offensive end, but I have absolutely no problem with him not getting on the board until midway through the second quarter. The Jazz are stacked when it comes to scoring and Mitchell is not a guy you have to worry about going through much of a slump. Also, as things weren’t coming for him on the scoreboard, he was dialed in on the other side.
There were a few possessions where the Jazz were just being way too unselfish and passed up a ton of open shots. If you’re open, shoot.
This isn’t really a low note, but here we are. Jared Butler was certain that he had shaken out his nerves and his first-game jitters in the preseason and that he would be fine on Wednesday night. But in his first possession on the court he mistakenly passed the ball off the back of a Thunder player and then soon after airballed a 3-pointer. He ended up going 0-of-5 on the night. But here’s the thing — it was his FIRST EVER NBA GAME. It’s fine. Of course he wasn’t perfect and just lights out. He’s really talented and he’s smart, so he’s going to be fine.
I know that it’s kind of the job of the fans to overreact and to be reactionary, but let’s all remember that today was the first of 82. There’s a lot of game to be played and this team is going to be very good.
Udoka Azubuike was the only active player not to see the court on Wednesday. Two-way player Malik Fitts made it in, as well as end-of-bench players Elijah Hughes and Miye Oni, but no Dok