Jordan Clarkson was critical but cordial, seething but placating.
Sitting in the interview room at Vivint Arena on Saturday night, clad in an oversize puffy coat and gingerly cradling his swollen right elbow, he wanted to convey his displeasure with the referees he felt had failed to protect him, while not being so demonstrative as to incur a sizable fine from the NBA watchdogs who penalize outspoken vilification of their game officials.
And so, the veteran guard walked up to and toed the line, trying not to cross it while discussing the lack of a foul call on the third-quarter play which saw him knocked from the air on a dunk attempt and cartwheeled down hard to the court.
“I guess it’s part of the game, right?” he asked, letting the rhetorical question hang in the air as he followed up with a wry smile indicating that he actually felt as though the play was anything other than a rote part of the game.
With about 3½ minutes left in the third of the Jazz’s eventual 116-111 loss to the Blazers, Clarkson was dribbling along the left sideline, got a screen from teammate Jarred Vanderbilt, went right, then cut suddenly through the open lane and launched himself toward the hoop.
Portland’s Jabari Walker abandoned his defense of Talen Horton-Tucker in the corner to shift over, leaping to meet Clarkson midair. While Walker did get his hand on the ball initially in his block attempt, his momentum carried his arm into making hard contact with Clarkson’s elbow, effectively throwing him off-balance.
As Clarkson lost not only the ball but directional control, his body now tilting backwards, his torso collided with that of oncoming Portland behemoth Jusuf Nurkic, who was likewise shifting off Vanderbilt in a belated attempt to make a play at the rim. The resulting cross-body check sent Clarkson to the ground, where he landed hard on his back and arm.
Tony Brothers’ crew did not blow their whistles, enabling a Blazers fast break the other way which ultimately resulted in a go-ahead bucket by Trendon Watford. Jazz coach Will Hardy called timeout, and voiced sufficiently pointed displeasure to be assessed the first technical foul of his head coaching career.
His only regret in the aftermath was that he was that he received just a single tech in support of his player.
“Yeah, that should have been two. I should have gotten thrown out,” Hardy lamented postgame. “That play was gross. I’m happy that Jordan’s not hurt. Not that it was a dirty play — I don’t think there was any intent for it to be dirty — but when a guy goes up in the air and [in the end] lands on his back going for a dunk, you would hope that that one gets called. But again, that’s life in the NBA.”
He concluded by reflecting on the fine he will receive for the T, plus any additional one that may be tacked on for his critique of the refs, dryly joking, “I’ll have to rethink my Christmas shopping.”
Perhaps not, after all, as team owner Ryan Smith tweeted out afterward, “I’ll be covering the fine on this one.”
Clarkson, meanwhile, was pointedly hoping to avoid the more substantial financial penalty assessed to players for similarly frank assessments, while still getting across his view that the crew of Brothers, Karl Lane, and part-timer Intae Hwang whiffed not only that particular play, but myriad others.
His tone was measured, and he expressed appreciation for the difficult nature of the jobs that referees have to do — but he also conceded to being “super-upset” about the lack of a call, and was clear in his displeasure at a perceived double-standard which doesn’t allow for negative public assessment of officials who miss myriad calls.
“We come here, we come to work, just like they come to work, they lace up their shoes; they make mistakes, I make mistakes, everybody makes mistakes down the line. But at some point they’ve got to get held accountable,” Clarkson said. “I get held accountable — for missed shots, turnovers, late-game situations, everything. In that instance, we’ve all got to be held accountable.”
Vanderbilt also came to his teammate’s defense postgame with a succinct analysis of the no-call.
“I thought he got fouled — simple as that. I thought he got fouled,” Vanderbilt said. “Officials missed the call. That was a big play in the game or us.”
It wasn’t just that singular incident which had Clarkson annoyed, though.
Beyond being irate at that specific play (“That could have easily been bad if I had landed different. That could have f---ed my stuff up.”), the guard was similarly miffed about what he considered wild variance from moment to moment throughout the game on what did or did not constitute a foul.
His contact with Blazers guard Anfernee Simons while defending a drive with 29.2 seconds to go? Elicited a whistle and two free free throws, much to his consternation. But Nurkic’s contact with Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen on a drive just seconds later? An apparent armbar to The Finnisher’s torso went unnoticed, and his losing control of the ball was simply ruled a pivotal turnover.
Clarkson, while annoyed by the apparent disparity, nevertheless pulled his punches a bit, equivocated somewhat in his comments, noting that, “the refs that were out there weren’t trying to step on nobody’s toes,” that he had “great communication with them,” that “everybody’s learning,” and he’s “cool with every ref. … I have no hatred toward anybody.”
He couldn’t completely let it go, however.
“At the same time, you get upset,” Clarkson elaborated, “‘cause we’re out here working and they don’t got to deal with all the outside stuff, they don’t get fined, nothing happens to them when they miss calls that change the situations of the game.”
He’s hoping for more consistency, more parity, a bit of change.
Regarding the latter, he’s hoping a conversation he had with one member of the crew on the court following the final horn makes his ultimate point.
“I talked to the ref after the game and told him maybe he’s gonna have to look at this film,” Clarkson said. “There were a lot of mistakes out there.”