141 days after the 2019-2020 season was suspended, the NBA made its return on Thursday night and it was nothing short of spectacular. And some of that had nothing to do with the games themselves, although both were wildly entertaining and came down to the final seconds.
Thursday night was about more than just basketball. The protests held before both games were extremely moving and proved just how important the issue of social justice is to the players and to the NBA as a whole. There was also the in-studio return of the always-fantastic “Inside the NBA” crew of Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal, and Charles Barkley on TNT, all of whom were in top form on Thursday night.
The entire night simply could not have gone any better than it did.
All NBA players and referees took a knee before both games
With the full support of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who broke a long-standing mandate that required all players to stand during the national anthem, every single player took a knee before both games played on Thursday night and were joined by coaches and referees alike.
Just a few hours before tipoff of the first game between the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans, it was reported that the two teams were working on doing something in unison but nobody knew quite what it would look like. The result was stunning. Players, coaches, and referees were arm in arm as they knelt right in front of the “Black Lives Matter” slogan that was painted on the court while the anthem played with all of the players donning “Black Lives Matter” shirts.
Numerous players also had social messages on their back of their game jerseys, which was an option given to them before the restart. The Lakers and Clippers followed suit in the second game. The peaceful protests are expected to continue.
Both games were fantastic
As far as the games themselves were concerned, both were highly entertaining. Sure, things got a little sloppy at times in both games, but that’s to be expected after such a long layoff.
It was quite fitting that Rudy Gobert scored the first bucket of the restart as he was the first player to test positive for COVID-19 back in March. He and Donovan Mitchell have put their beef behind them and both had solid games for the Jazz as they just got past Zion Williamson and the Pelicans. Gobert hit two free throws with 6.9 seconds remaining the game to give the Jazz a two-point lead and then watched as Brandon Ingrams’s game-winning attempt went in and out as time expired.
In the second game of the doubleheader, the Lakers and Clippers went back and forth all night in another game that went down to the wire. LeBron James scored just 16 points but didn’t need to carry the load as Anthony Davis had a fantastic game with a game-high 34 points. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard combined for 58 points but it wasn’t quite enough as LeBron sealed the 103-101 victory with a putback with 12.8 seconds to go.
As always, the ‘Inside the NBA’ crew was amazing
Another great part of the evening was the stellar work from the “Inside the NBA” crew on TNT, who are simply one of the best parts of the NBA season in any given year. The team they have in place is absolutely perfect and EJ, Kenny, Shaq, and Chuck were all in top form on Thursday night. With plexiglass in between one another, which was awesome to see, the foursome was back in the studio for the first time in months and it was as if they’d never left. The witty banter was there. The insults were there. Kevin Hart came in late, which is always a riot. It was perfect, just as the entire night was.
Sure, it was only one night but it was a great night for the NBA. Okay, it was a little different without the fans but other than that, everything on Thursday night was done to perfection. Let’s hope things continue on that path.