The Salt Lake City Stars played their first-ever home game on Friday night at Bruin Arena on the Campus of Salt Lake Community College. The Stars came into the night at 0-2. A crowd of 1,015 welcomed the Stars to Salt Lake for the first time. It was a fun atmosphere with a laidback, family-friendly vibe. The game started well for the Stars, but they couldn’t keep it together at the end. Salt Lake’s first home game will go down in the history books as a 91-80 loss.
The Stars were playing the Northern Arizona Suns, who entered the contest at 1-0. Former Jazz forward Elijah Millsap was in town as a member of the Suns. Millsap played well against his former team’s affiliate. He totaled 12 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. Millsap mentioned that he has changed the way he plays since his last D-League stint. His NBA experience helped him realize that a lot of the looks you get in the D-League just aren’t there in the Association. He believes this mindset will help him develop into a more fundamentally sound player.
The Stars built an eight-point lead in the middle of the first quarter behind six points from Henry Sims and seven off the bench from Jermaine Taylor. Things looked to be going pretty well for Salt Lake in their inaugural home game. However, Johnny O’Bryant III came on strong, and scored 12 first quarter points for Northern Arizona. The Suns cut the deficit to three, finishing the quarter 24-21.
A couple of guys that might be of interest to Jazz fans played well in the first half as well. Training camp standout JJ O’Brien had eight first half points for the Stars, and Jazz draft pick Marcus Paige finished the first half with nine. Things didn’t go so well for Paige as the game went on, though. He finished with nine turnovers and zero assists. In a shocking twist for a D-League game, the halftime score was only 43-38 for the Stars.
The Suns pulled ahead in the third quarter with the help of Askia Booker. Booker had 12 points on two of three shooting from beyond the arc. After three, the Suns led 61-57. They held Salt Lake to just 14 points coming out of halftime. Jermaine Taylor led the way for the Stars with 15 points going into the fourth.
Things got interesting in the fourth quarter when Johnny O’Bryant III fouled out with over five minutes left in the game. At that point the Stars were struggling to contain him. This looked like it might be the break the Stars needed to get their first win. However, O’Bryant’s absence didn’t seem to hurt the Suns in the long run.
Salt Lake had plenty of chances to pick up their first win, but they couldn’t get stops late in the game. They also couldn’t stop turning the ball over. The Stars finished with 20 turnovers. On top of that, they missed several open threes. The Suns pulled away late and won it 91-80.
It’s difficult to gauge what kind of a team the Stars are this early in the season. The D-League game is a lot different than NCAA and the NBA. There’s a weird combination of trying to play within a system while simultaneously showcasing your own skills. D-League guys usually aren’t tied to a specific NBA team, so most of them could be called up anywhere at any time. This makes it difficult for some players to focus on team basketball. With that in mind, it’s impressive that Salt Lake played good enough team defense to keep Northern Arizona under 100 points.
The Stars seem to have some high character guys who are dedicated to improving and buying into the team as best they can. JJ O’Brien and Marcus Paige both have a chance of sticking on an NBA roster. If you’ve never been to a D-League game you should consider making your way out to one this season. It’s a unique way to watch professional basketball.
Elijah Millsap – Northern Arizona Suns Forward
Dean Cooper – SLC Stars Head Coach
Marcus Paige – SLC Stars Guard
Jermaine Taylor – SLC Stars Guard