It would have been easy to think that the short-handed Utah Jazz were going to lose to the short-handed Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night.
When Jordan Clarkson was assessed a flagrant-2 and ejected with 24.9 seconds to go, Jonathan Kuminga made 1 of 2 free throws to put Golden State up three points, and the Warriors got the ball back … well, you could be forgiven for believing it was over.
But with a few missed free throws, a couple steals, a drive-and-kick, a clutch 3, and a dunk, the Jazz reeled off five points in the final 13 seconds for an unbelievable 124-123 win that still seems … well, pretty surreal, even to those involved.
Here’s what various members of the team had to say about some of the key moments that contributed to a most unexpected victory.
The Clarkson-Kuminga dust-up
With the Jazz trailing 121-119, Clarkson attempts to drive on Kuminga, and after there is contact but no whistle, Kuminga blocks Clarkson’s shot. Clarkson then wraps up Kuminga from behind, angering the forward. After a brief confrontation, they are separated. Upon review, refs issue Clarkson a flagrant-2, leading to his ejection. Kuminga and the Jazz’s Malik Beasley, who rushed into the fracas, are given technicals.
Clarkson: He got the rebound, I tried to foul him. Just a regular foul, I think, at any other time. I don’t know what the call was. They said it was the way I fouled him. I tried to hold him up. Yeah, that was it. I didn’t make any contact with his face. I didn’t do anything.
Coach Will Hardy: I haven’t seen the replay from multiple angles yet, but it was explained to me that Jordan swiped him in the face, and then there was a square-up afterwards between the two guys, and that resulted in a flagrant-2.
Referee Marc Davis: Replay determined that Clarkson’s contact above the shoulder was deemed both unnecessary and excessive as it met the standard of a flagrant penalty 2. It included wind-up, impact, and follow-through to the head of Kuminga.
Beasley: I didn’t see anything. I was just ready for whatever. Wherever my teammate is in that type of moment, I’m there. If I’m on the court, I’m there — no matter who it is.
The drive, the pass, and the 3
Kuminga made 1 of 2 free throws, and the Warriors were given possession. The Jazz were determined to either steal the ball or to foul quickly — a scenario which plagued them in a Nov. 26 loss to the Suns, and again in a Dec. 3 loss to the Blazers. This time, however, Kelly Olynyk stole the ball from Klay Thompson and threw it ahead to Simone Fontecchio, whose rushed attempt at a 3 was blocked by Thompson. The Warriors recovered.
Hardy: Ended up having another late-game situation we all seem to be very familiar with at this point — a trap-to-foul situation, which was executed brilliantly tonight. Kelly made a great play on the ball to get the steal.
Fontecchio: Oh, I was just mad! I didn’t see it coming. I knew we were down 3 so we had to shoot the 3. But [Thompson] made a good play on defense.
Jordan Poole recovered the ball and was fouled by Fontecchio. After missing the first free throw, he made the second for a 123-119 lead with 13.3 seconds to go. Hardy called timeout, drew up a play, and, with no Clarkson and no Mike Conley available, put the ball in the hands of Nickeil Alexander-Walker. With a screen from Fontecchio, Alexander-Walker had a clear lane to the hoop, and seemed destined to take the gimme layup, and play the foul-and-extend game. Except instead of taking the layup, he located a wide-open Malik Beasley with a cross-court pass for a 3-pointer.
Olynyk: Nickeil makes an unbelievable play.
Hardy: We were gonna try to get a 3 off the dribble. Once he broke the 3-point line, myself and every other person in the gym thought he was going to lay it in. It seemed like everybody on the court sort of froze, and he fired it out to Beas. He made a terrific read.
Beasley: I thought ’Keil was gonna lay it up, honestly. But I just stayed ready to shoot. I had just missed one in the corner [off a pass] from J.C., so I knew the next one was going in, no matter what. I wanted to shimmy, but we were [still] down one, so I thought, “I’ll save it for the end!”
Clarkson: Nickeil is seeing the game really well, running the team very well, making the right play. … That’s one of those plays I saw him make all through training camp. You see the whole defense collapse, and he makes that play. I trust him to make that play nine times out of 10. Ten times out of 10! That’s what he does. He found the right guy — Beas has been making shots for us all season. So … great choice.
The steal and the runout dunk
Their lead cut to 123-122, the Warriors call their final timeout with 6.9 seconds to go, trying to design a play that will either enable them to run the clock out, or run some time off the clock before sending a good shooter to the free-throw line. The Jazz, meanwhile, are trying to replicate their earlier steal success.
Hardy: On a play like that, we talked in the timeout about, “We’re trying to full-deny and we are gambling going for the ball, and if we don’t think we can get it, we foul immediately.”
Olynyk: Trying to get a trap and a steal — the same thing we tried to do the last two [games]! We did it once already, and now we had to do it again.
Collin Sexton: We practiced that [Tuesday] — making sure not to foul [at first] and trying to get a steal. The Phoenix game — we messed up. And then the Blazers — we messed up as well. So we practiced that.
Clarkson: We’ve been doing that the last two or three days of practice — Will’s been focusing on the last 2 minutes of the game, how we’re finishing games, what happens in that situation. That’s what a three-day break can [do].
Ty Jerome inbounds the ball to Poole — but Alexander-Walker sneaks up behind him and knocks the ball loose.
Sexton: We practiced that [Tuesday], and it worked.
Olynyk runs over Poole to secure the ball. Did he get away with a foul?
Olynyk: Nah, there were a lot of no-calls. Might as well add to ‘em. They were letting guys play the whole last 4 or 5 minutes. The ball is loose, everybody’s diving on the floor — it is what it is.
Beasley scoops up the loose ball and pushes it downcourt — Fontecchio and the Warriors’ Moses Moody are ahead, while Alexander-Walker and Jerome rush to get involved. As Moody eventually decides to try and cut off Beasley, the Jazz wing throws a perfect bounce pass to the cutting Fontecchio, who gathers it and rushes in for the dunk with 1.4 seconds to play.
Olynyk: I tipped it to Beas or something — I don’t know, Beas got it somehow. I was lying on the floor, I was looking, and I was like, “Shoot, it’s off to the races.”
Beasley: I saw him running, and we basically had a 2-on-1. I was waiting for [Moody] to decide if he was going to come up to me or stay back, and he came up, so I just made the right play.
Olynyk: A 2-on-1 — something you do every day since you’re 3 years old — execute it, and “Tech” dunked it for the win!
Fontecchio: Just amazing defense by the guys. Nickeil gets his hands on the ball, and then Kelly just diving for it, and Malik picking the ball up and making the right play. It was just an amazing team effort on defense, and we were able to capitalize.
Hardy: Nickeil swiped, got the ball, jarred it loose, and then we went out in transition and Beas made a really heady bounce pass to Tech.
Olynyk: Sneaky bounce!
Hardy: And the rest is history.
Fontecchio: [After the earlier blocked 3], I was just really happy when we were able to steal the ball [again] and put it in the basket.
Clarkson: Nickeil gets a big strip just playing aggressive. We get a steal, and then “Fontecchy” dunks the ball and we win the game. Jazz win! Heh heh! Awesome!
Even the Jazz seemed a bit stunned by the win, and were trying their best to explain it. It was noticed that a basketball was sitting in Fontecchio’s locker afterward, and he was asked if he’d been given the gameball.
Fontecchio: Everybody was so happy for me! Everybody takes care of each other, helps each other. Everybody’s just ready to lift each other up. It’s just a really good moment. … I’m gonna bring it home, definitely. Just gonna bring it home and figure it out — put it somewhere away from my daughter! Or maybe I’ll let her play with it.
Hardy: I’ve said it all year — we are imperfect but we’ve got heart. And that was reflected at the end of the game. … They never flinch in weird moments.
Why is this team so good in those instances?
Olynyk: I don’t know, that’s a good question. I don’t know the answer to that. I’ll have to think about that. That was definitely one of the crazier ones. This is something that would happen in the NCAA Tournament! Crazy stuff happens [there], right? Someone hits a full-court shot and you lose — or win.
Sexton: We have a bunch of guys that are willing to do whatever to win. You saw it in how we played today. We’re tough. We just keep going. Keep going even when things may get weird. We just keep going and know that everything will be alright.
Beasley: We all play together — that’s the main thing. Coach is looking for guys who can all play together and make the right plays. Shout-out to [Jarred Vanderbilt] — he’s started every game, [but tonight] he comes off the bench, and that shows how great of a team we are. No egos, we just love to hoop.
Clarkson: We’re just tough. We just claw it out. We’re all mentally strong. We take every [opposing] run, come back to the bench, talk about it. Close games, it’s kind of hard because they’re just throwing so much at you that [sometimes] you really don’t know what to do. We play aggressive defensively — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but what we’re gonna do every night is fight.
Hardy: From the beginning of the year, we’ve embraced the fact that we may not be this pretty-, neat-, and tidy-on-paper team. … They’re finding a way to really fit together. Sometimes we have lineups out there that, if you wrote those down in the summer on a piece of paper, you’re like, “That lineup doesn’t quite make sense.” But when you watch ’em play together, they do. They feed off each other. … Some nights it seems like the weirder it gets, the more comfortable it gets for us.