Sacramento • In the aftermath of Friday’s back-and-forth thriller at the Golden 1 Center, the Utah Jazz lamented a lot of little things that didn’t go their way and contributed to what was ultimately a 126-125 defeat:
Lauri Markkanen’s game-winning attempt being off-target … not being able to grab a defensive rebound and thus enabling Kevin Heurter one more chance … not enough fourth-quarter stops …
Plenty went awry in the final few moments. But there was one with 9:59 remaining that proved pivotal as well: Mike Conley picking up his fifth foul and having to come out of the game.
“Yeah, Mike was rolling — we definitely could have used him still being in there,” said Kelly Olynyk. “He got a couple tough ones, too. Yeah, he was he was rolling, making plays, we were on a run; that kind of hurts your momentum a little for sure, especially at that point of the game.”
To the center’s point, in the minutes preceding that call, Conley had helped Utah erase an eight-point deficit and surge ahead. A pair of free throws, a 3-pointer, assisting on a triple by Rudy Gay, assisting on a Walker Kessler dunk, and then burying another 3, one which gave the Jazz their very first lead of the game, at 94-91.
Fourteen seconds later, he was whistled for bumping Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox, and heading to the bench, where he’d remain until there was just 4:09 to go.
To him, it was a maddening call in a night full of them.
“It was really tough. I was just talking to [Jordan Clarkson] about it. We felt like we had a good rhythm going on with that group that was playing, and we had found something that was working,” Conley said. “It was frustrating, but I was frustrated more at some of the earlier fouls that I was picking up that I didn’t feel like were warranted. But it was a tough break. The guys held tough while I was out and gave us a chance to win the game.”
Actually, for coach Will Hardy, it was a maddening call in a season full of them.
“Yeah, that hurts. Mike’s gotten a terrible whistle the whole season on the defensive end,” he said.
Conley was particularly aggrieved by his third personal, a tripping foul against Kings star Domantas Sabonis at the 7:30 mark of the third quarter, whistled by official Evan Scott.
He wanted to implore Hardy to challenge the call, but considering the time and situation, he understood not risking wasting it in that moment.
“I completely didn’t touch him — he just tripped and fell and they called a foul me because that was the closest person,” Conley said. “That was the third one, and so I was like, ‘This is my third; do I tell him to challenge it?’ And I was like, I understand not challenging it, save it, but I know how it is with me sometimes — I get three, and it’s easy to pick up four and five. So, you know, it’s frustrating, but we did the right thing.”
Hardy also felt like he was doing the right thing by pulling Conley after that fifth foul.
Yes, he was in a great rhythm, and he had the team around him in one too, and yes, there have been myriad occasions this year when the coach has rolled the dice on letting a player try to play through foul trouble … but with that much time remaining in the game, and with the speedy Fox such a difficult matchup, he ultimately felt it was a gamble not worth taking.
His teammates would wind up keeping the game close, and Collin Sexton filled in admirably, but they still recognized what a momentum-killer that call was, and how it hurt their chances to potentially build up an advantage and to salvage a win on what proved a disastrous road trip.
“It was really tough, because that’s when we started getting into a real flow,” said Clarkson. “You see the ball start popping a lot more, guys turned down shots for better shots, and it started feeling really good. And then it was a tough, tough blow losing them in that moment.”
The coach understands his point guard being upset.
He even joked that he’s trying to prod Conley into perhaps getting a little more upset, perhaps to the point of provoking a ref.
“He’s competing pretty hard, and a lot of those bang-bang plays just have not gone his way so far,” Hardy said. “He’s maintaining his composure, he still doesn’t have a technical in his career — which we’re working on.”
Conley, informed of the suggestion, laughed and noted that it’s not like he hasn’t been trying.
“I’ve said a lot — a lot — of things that I normally haven’t said throughout my career, so I’m getting closer and closer,” he said. “But I think the refs just don’t want to do it — they don’t want to be the one to T me up and make history.”