This time, however, it was only a small adjustment to the clock, and after that was quickly corrected, referee Scott Foster made his way to the center circle and, nearly five months late. , officially warned the Thunder against the Jazz.
“It was almost like an epiphany, right?” Thundering center Steven Adams said. “Just that weird feeling that you’re in it right now. This is what we are doing now. The NBA has started well. It was a great feeling, definitely. “
It’s been four months and 21 days, to be exact, since March 11, the night the NBA shut down in Oklahoma City with Rudy Gobert becoming Patient Zero as the COVID-19 pandemic became a tangible reality in America. North. It is the game that is considered to have stopped everything, a turning point in both sports, and really, in world history.
“This game was the start of closing everything,” said Thunder coach Billy Donovan. “Not just in the NBA, but in our country. ”
The Thunder picked up roughly where it left off in March, crushing the Jazz 110-94, never lagging and building a lead as large as 29 points. Chris Paul dictated the action, as he often does, pacing the Thunder with 18 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists, while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 19 points and 6 assists. There was a lot of buzz about the improvements of some of OKC’s younger players during the break, giving Paul confidence that the break could have brought out a better version of the Thunder.
“When you talk about this big gap that we’ve had since March, to see how much we’ve improved as a team, to see [Andre] Roberson over there, “Paul said,” it’s special and it almost gives you goosebumps. ”
Paul and his close friend Donovan Mitchell reflected ahead of the game on the bond between the two teams and the magnitude of that moment in March, as they both considered everything that has happened since.
“We had a conversation right before the game, it’s pretty surreal that we ended up here kind of replaying the game,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been talking about the insanity of life since we last saw these guys. I think, honestly, it was kind of refreshing to go play that particular game, because you know it was kind of the one that was really changed a lot across the world. I think for us as an underdog, for the game itself, I think it was a pretty special moment. ”
The Jazz once played one game in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – a 106-104 win over the Pelicans – before facing the Thunder, but for OKC, facing Utah was viewed by some players and staff as a full poetic moment of the circle, a box to check.
“I mean, it’s a hell of a coincidence that it’s who our first game is against,” Paul said with a laugh before the game.
“From what happened that night, with all the madness, to people who are in the unknown,” thundering center Nerlens Noel said ahead of the game, “fast forward four or five months later and we’re here ready to play basketball in a great, safe environment in the bubble that the NBA has done a great job with. So now is the time to do it and face our fears. ”
After Gobert tested positive, the entire Jazz travel group was tested for COVID-19 and only one player came back positive: Mitchell. As jazz coach Quin Snyder prepared for the Thunder, watching a movie and coming up with a game plan – which wasn’t all that different from the one he had ready for March 11, he said. he said – he knew playing OKC would flood him with memories. and reflections of night sports stopped in America.
“What happened at OKC was historic,” Snyder said. “I think it’s hard to imagine when you look back at the circumstances that arose, not only with the cancellation of the game and subsequently the season, but to have our two main players, the two guys of our team that were in the All-Star Game, having them both tested positive and no one else in the group, was a bit surreal. The whole evening was surreal.
“I think the last game against New Orleans in a lot of ways for us just getting back on the court, reconnecting and playing basketball felt like more of a game,” Snyder added. . “It gave you meaning, our team meaning, our players in particular, even though that night in Oklahoma City was as dramatic as it was, as we experienced for the next three or four months, it gave you gives an appreciation of how unimportant this game was, compared to all of the people who fought this virus. The front-line health workers, the people who gave their lives to protect others. The many people who got sick, the people who tragically died. So this game starts to fade as much as its importance on a larger scale. ”
Ahead of the game, both teams took a knee in solidarity in front of the Black Lives Matter emblem during the national anthem, which was performed by OKC frontman Rob Clay from the floor of Chesapeake Energy Arena.
This arena, about 1,300 miles from the NBA’s “bubble” in Florida, remains almost entirely untouched since the end of night sports. The floor is lowered, still glistening under the stadium lights after being polished and disinfected following Gobert’s positive diagnosis. Placards for media seats are still in place at the scorer’s table, signage in the halls and even Gatorade pitchers connect the benches of both teams. From there to Lake Buena Vista, both in time and in space between, as Snyder said, the league and the world have changed.
“At this point, we’re fighting COVID and we’re also fighting social justice issues, so there are things that have replaced this game that are much more meaningful and important,” Snyder said. “Having said that, this game was a unique set of circumstances that we will never see again. “