PORTLAND, Ore. — About 25 minutes before the Utah Jazz’s season-opening 120-100 win against the Portland Trail Blazers was set to begin, neither team was on the court.
With no fans in the building it was eerily quiet.
With 20 minutes to go before tipoff I started to wonder if something was wrong.
A handful of reporters and I (all at least 6 feet apart) couldn’t help but think things seemed a little weird and were reminded of the night the NBA shut down back in March, or the night in the Orlando bubble when players weren’t on the floor and the Milwaukee Bucks staged a protest.
“It’s different and I think, like anything, you’ll get used to it. I think everybody would agree it’d be great to have fans in the seats. But that’s not where we are right now. That said, I think the players hold themselves to a high standard.” — ” Jazz coach Quin Snyder
Where were the players? They’d been on the court warming up about an hour before the game. Had something happened since then?
Turns out when there are no fans in the building, no game operations crew responsible for entertaining thousands of people, and no one to distract from the stillness of an empty court, there’s no reason for performative warmups.
With just under 15 minutes left before the opening tip the teams returned to the court to absolutely zero fanfare. The PA announcer welcomed the teams, the cardboard cutouts of fans did not cheer.
“Kind of weird, you know,” Jordan Clarkson said after the game. “Portland is super loud when you come here and play.”
You could only hear scattered lonely claps after the pre-recorded national anthem was played on the video board and over the speakers.
When the Blazers starters were announced, forward Robert Covington pointed to the stands and waved to an imaginary crowd. It would have been more funny if it wasn’t such a stark reminder of where the world is.
“It’s different and I think, like anything, you’ll get used to it,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I think everybody would agree it’d be great to have fans in the seats. But that’s not where we are right now. That said, I think the players hold themselves to a high standard.”
Even without the atmosphere of an opening-night game, the Jazz didn’t let it shake them. They took care of business.
The Jazz held Portland’s best player, Damian Lillard, scoreless through the first half and to just nine points in the second half. They scored on four of the Blazers’ six turnovers, won the rebounding battle 59-40, including 12 offensive rebounds, and the Jazz let their defense turn into high-paced, efficient offense.
“It’s fun when we play the way we played tonight,” Rudy Gobert said. “That’s the way we’ve been practicing every single day. It’s being unselfish.”
Everything that Snyder and all the players talked about through training camp and the preseason was on display in their first game of the 2020-21 campaign.
It’s just a single game out of 72, but it’s a solid starting point. There’s certainly going to be bumps along the way. No one expects for the Jazz to be perfect every night, or expects them to hold the league’s best players to single digits every game.
“I’m not saying we’re going to go out there and keep guy’s like Dame and Steph (Curry) and (Devin Booker) and all those guys to nine points in the game or whatever,” Donovan Mitchell said. “It’s about making it tough and being able to stay solid. And then also trusting that you have each other’s backs.”
This season is sure to present different obstacles.
There are many more empty arenas and weird situations awaiting the Jazz over the next few months. There are more than likely going to be players in and out of the lineup for myriad reasons and sometimes the Jazz are going to have games where they’re just a little off. But, if nothing else the Jazz know what they are capable of.