Seems like the aftermath of Wednesday’s showdown between the Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers ideally should have been how epic the back-and-forth matchup between the teams with the best records in the Western and Eastern conferences was.
Instead, following the Jazz’s eventual 131-123 overtime defeat, the discussion — at least from Utah’s perspective — was almost entirely centered around what they perceive to be unfair and non-equitable treatment from referees.
Donovan Mitchell, who received two technical fouls in the game’s final 57.5 seconds and was ejected, went on a profane postgame rant alleging the Jazz “continually get screwed.” Mike Conley came right out and said that small-market teams and teams that don’t have ratings-driving superstars are subject to a different set of rules from officials. Rudy Gobert, even having had time to cool down, echoed his teammates’ accusations, dropped a profane rant of his own, spitting fire about how he and his teammates are constantly disrespected.
All in all, probably not the takeaway the NBA was hoping for from a marquee matchup ahead of All-Star weekend, considering it overshadowed a game that saw the teams trade figurative haymakers all night long and ultimately require five extra minutes to settle.
In the end, though, while the Jazz offered some token compliments to the Sixers for being a great team that played a great game, their thoughts were pretty much devoted to their belief that the referees swung the outcome in Philly’s favor with a series of missed and/or misguided calls.
“It’s tough to go out there and see how we fight and compete and to have a game like that taken from us. I’m never, ever wanting to blame a ref, to blame an official — I always say I could have done more — but this is getting out of hand,” Mitchell began. “There have been games like this that we’ve won, there have been games like this that we’ve lost. But this whole refereeing stuff — we’re nice [to them], we don’t complain, we don’t get frustrated, we fight through things. And the fact that we continually get screwed … We won this game in my opinion.
“It’s been a consistent thing. The question of ‘Can we do it? Can we sustain it? Are we for real No. 1?’ Yeah the hell we are. It’s getting f---ing ridiculous,” he continued. “… I’m sick of it. To be honest, we all are. This is something that just … it eats at me. Y’all know what it is, we all know what it is, but it’s really getting out of hand. It’s really, really, really getting out of hand. And the league needs to do something about this.”
The initial flashpoint seemed to be a call made with 28 seconds to go in regulation, and the Jazz up 116-113. Royce O’Neale went after a loose ball and appeared to successfully save it, tossing it ahead to a teammate streaking down the court for a potential layup. The referees ruled O’Neale out, then spent several minutes reviewing the play. They ultimately ruled that the ball grazed an official who was standing out of bounds, and gave the Sixers possession.
Afterward, seemingly every call that went against Utah appeared to set them off.
Mitchell, who wound up shooting just 12 for 34, maintained he was hacked on a number of those misses but did not get a whistle, as he went to the free-throw line just six times.
Conley, whose shot at a tie-breaking buzzer-beater rimmed out at the regulation horn, maintained that he was accosted on several plays in overtime that also did not result in a call.
“It’s tough because we fought so hard, did all the things we can control — we always say ‘Try to control what you can control,’ and tonight, there were some things that were out of our control,” Conley lamented.
Asked later if he feels this Jazz team is officiated differently, he replied, “I’ve felt that way my whole career.
“Honestly, you know, it’s just that small-market [thing], we don’t have the big-time names, the ones that are all over TV and stuff like that. So it can get a little wild for us,” Conley added. “We have stars — Don’s a star, Rudy’s a star, Bojan [Bogdanovic] and guys deserve to get those calls. And it’s just not happening for us right now, and it’s unfortunate.”
Utah’s players all acknowledged they could have done more to potentially change the outcome. Joel Embiid put on an MVP-level performance, racking up 40 points, 19 rebounds, three assists and two blocks — plus a bonkers, contested, fadeaway 3-pointer that sent the game to OT. Tobias Harris came up huge in the extra session. Ben Simmons was efficient shooting the ball and picked up his defensive effort as the game went along. Utah also wound up committing 16 turnovers, and its poor transition defense enabled Philadelphia to turn them into 25 points.
And yet, while the Jazz posted a 21-8 advantage in 3-pointers made, the numbers they were more focused on were their 24 fouls to Philly’s 17, and the Sixers’ 35-19 margin in free throws attempted.
“As I’ve been in this league and I’ve been watching a lot of games, I feel like a lot of guys are able to do things that we’re not able to do. And our guys are not able to get some calls that everybody else in the f---ing league gets,” charged Gobert, alleging, for instance, that Conley was fouled on three consecutive plays but got zero calls. “… Hopefully they’re going to watch the game when they get home. Hopefully they feel ashamed.”