Tuesday night, Donovan Mitchell made his highly anticipated return to Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, as the Cleveland Cavaliers took on the Utah Jazz in the third stop of their five-game road trip.
This was a strange game for me. I’m on a quest with my father to see a game at every NBA team’s arena. Generally, I don’t like to see the Cavaliers on the road when I travel to these arenas because I like integrating myself into the home team’s crowd/atmosphere and supporting the home team. However, circumstances worked out as such that the Cavs were in Salt Lake City taking on the Jazz while I was in town for a job.
This was the second time I had seen the Cavs on the road. The first one was at the Palace of Auburn Hills against the Cavs long-time rival, the Detroit Pistons.
Even though the Jazz is a storied franchise, I thought Vivint Arena would have some flair and pizzazz to it. There were graphics and posters on the walls, but overall it was your basic everyday, standard NBA arena.
My dad and I were in our seats approximately 10 minutes prior to tipoff. As the start of the game got closer, Jazz fans started filing into their seats. By the time Jarrett Allen and Utah’s Walker Kessler met at center court for the opening tip, I couldn’t find many empty seats.
Donovan Mitchell was shown nothing but love prior to the game and after the game. During the game, the crowd booed him, especially when he was at the free-throw line. Before the Cavs’ starting lineup was introduced, the Jazz gave Mitchell a video tribute highlighting all the great things he did for the team and the Salt Lake community during his five years. The crowd gave him his first standing ovation of the night during this time. Mitchell got his second standing ovation of the night as he was leaving the court following the final buzzer going off.
Throughout the game, it felt like a wall of sound was hitting me right in the face. When the Jazz pushed their lead into double digits, I thought the roof was going to blow off from the sound energy.
As mentioned above, it felt really strange being in another team’s arena and rooting for the Cavaliers. Although I was supporting the opponent, Jazz fans weren’t giving me any negative energy. Throughout the game, I was engaging in friendly banter with many of the Jazz fans who were sitting in my section. Moreover, I was having conversations throughout the game with a couple of Utah fans who were in my row. After the final buzzer sounded, I was shaking fans with some of the Jazz fans in my section and telling them they have a good team.
Utah was playing their first game at home following a three-game road trip where they went 1-2, defeating the Rockets and losing to the Bulls and Grizzlies. Even though it was only a three-game road trip, I thought Cleveland would be able to take advantage of Utah’s fatigue, as the first home game after a road trip is usually challenging.
I didn’t necessarily think the Cavaliers would win the game handily because the Jazz have been a scrappy and feisty team all season long. However, the Jazz never really showed any signs of fatigue throughout the game. They knew there was going to be extra emotion in the building from the Jazz fans given the circumstances.
Vivint Arena has always been a hard place for the Cleveland Cavaliers to go into and come out with a victory. Before last season's 111-91 win in Salt Lake, the Cavaliers last victory in Utah was on January 10th, 2014. On Tuesday night, I got a first-hand experience as to why it’s so hard for opposing teams to defeat the Jazz in Utah.
It was a really unique experience seeing the Cleveland Cavaliers play a game in someone else’s arena. Given the circumstances surrounding this game, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.