Memphis, Tenn. • Mike Conley got a thunderous ovation from the Grizzlies crowd when he was the last Jazz starter announced before the game. And about 4 minutes into the opening quarter, he got an all-the-feels tribute video played on the jumbotron in honor of his dozen years with the franchise.
What he wanted to get most, though, he didn’t — a victory.
Utah’s four-game winning streak came to an end in controversial fashion at the FedEx Forum on Friday night, as the referees opted not to blow the whistle as Donovan Mitchell lost the ball on the game’s final play, preserving Memphis’ 107-106 victory.
Afterward, an irate Mitchell blasted the officials for what he sees as a now-habitual pattern of letting opponents get away with hacking him in late-game situations.
“I got fouled. There’s really not much else to it,” Mitchell said. “They obviously defended it well. But they hit my arm — this is the third time this has happened in 12 games, at the end of a game that I haven’t got a foul call. Which is, at this point, ridiculous. I don’t really have much else to say besides that.”
Mitchell finished with 29 points, nine rebounds and five assists, but shot just 9 for 21. Rudy Gobert added 23 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks, but was one of only three Jazz players to make more than half his shots (going 9 for 11).
Conley, meanwhile, shot just 5 for 19 in totaling 15 points, four rebounds and three assists in his first game back in Memphis since his pre-draft trade to the Jazz. Afterward, he conceded that all the hype about it was difficult to tune out.
“It was a hard game to play, but it was special. A lot of emotions. Part of you is just soaking it all in, and another part is trying to focus on the game,” Conley said. “I’m glad I got it over with, and it was an amazing experience, but it would’ve been better if we’d won.”
They certainly had their chances.
In spite of hitting only 40.2% of their shots for the game, and making only 9 of their 34 tries from 3-point range (26.5%), they made up for it with mostly stellar defense from Gobert, and taking advantage of the whistles they did get.
After going only 1 for 2 from the free-throw line in the first half, the Jazz got the Grizzlies into the penalty with 6:53 left in the third, and would go on to make 17 of 19 from the stripe in that quarter alone, and 27 of 32 for the game.
How ironic then, that the game would ultimately come down to a whistle that wasn’t blown.
With Memphis having rallied to go up 1 in the waning seconds, rookie star Ja Morant bled the clock and attempted a lead-extending floater, but Gobert rotated over to swat it away. Royce O’Neale grabbed the ensuing loose ball, and coach Quin Snyder called timeout with 2.8 seconds remaining. Mitchell then curled off a screen, caught the inbound pass, and lost control of it after some contact with defender Solomon Hill, the last seconds turning to zeroes as the ball bounded away.
Mitchell was unequivocal in his belief that he was hacked.
“There comes a point in time where they’re going to release the [Last 2 Minute Report] that says, ‘Oh, I got fouled,’ and it’s too late. Third time in 12 games,” Mitchell fumed. “… I don’t know what they were looking at, but at the end of the day, it’s a foul. I put the ball out there, and he hit my wrist, and it’s a no-call. At least call it and challenge it and get it right.”
It was not called, it was not challenged, it was not overturned.
And it was not that play alone, Snyder would contend afterward, that was responsible for the Jazz falling to 8-4. He cited a Jeff Green 3-pointer that was wiped off the board upon review after the third quarter ended as being “deflating,” as well as the team’s defense not performing up to standards in the most pivotal moments.
“We gave up 30 points in the fourth quarter, and we haven’t been doing that,” he said.
While Gobert acknowledged he did not see the decisive play in question, he nevertheless agreed that he and his teammates didn’t get enough stops when it mattered, as the dynamic Morant finished with 25 points and eight assists, and longtime Conley pal Dillon Brooks hit a series of clutch shots late en route to 20 points.
Gobert said the team must improve its ability to close opponents out in tight situations, as he lamented a pair of lost nine-point leads, saying the Jazz “tend to lose our focus sometimes.”
Nevertheless, he was also supportive of Mitchell, joking the league now owes the Jazz something.
“Maybe after three of those fouls on the last possession that are not called, you should get a free win,” he said. “Or free Chick-fil-A or something.”
In the end, while Mitchell was livid over that non-call, Conley was emotional for a completely different reason.
“It was tough. I couldn’t look in the crowd without seeing somebody waving, or somebody I knew,” he said. “Every one of those people trigger a memory, just being in the building. It was almost kind of a dreamy feeling being out there. It was a little surreal.”