The Triple Team: Despite all odds — and incentives — Jazz make Lakers sweat before overtime loss

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 135-133 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. What scenes!

That was one of the funniest games in Utah Jazz history. Truthfully, I can’t think of any funnier off the top of my head.

The Jazz started this lineup:

The Jazz rested Lauri Markkanen with a bruised hand, despite him playing the previous game and not making the hand worse. Rudy Gay was at the NCAA championship game, he’s out with “low back soreness.” But they weren’t the only ones out Jordan Clarkson remains out with a sprained ring finger — I think that’s a legitimate injury, he’s still wearing a finger brace. Walker Kessler’s concussion clearly seemed real when he suffered it.

So the Jazz’s starting lineup had one Laker castoff, one rookie, one 10-day contract, a draft bust so bad that the last GM was replaced, and, well, whatever Kelly Olynyk is. The Jazz’s bench had two more Laker castoffs, another rookie, another 10-day guy (now turned into a full-season contract), and a minutes-restricted, newly-returning Collin Sexton.

Meanwhile, the Lakers started potentially the Greatest Of All Time in LeBron James and a definite Hall-of-Famer in his prime in Anthony Davis. This was not a fair fight.

The Jazz made it one anyway.

When the Lakers got the lead to 14 early in the 3rd quarter, the Jazz fought back. Among the notes:

• Luka Samanic — again, a 10-day contract — did a wholly adequate job of defending LeBron, forcing him into the stepback long-distance shots you want him to take.

• Damian Jones had real success in defending the two stars. (More on this later.)

• Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley, the Jazz players that the Lakers were eager to give up a first-round pick for (along with D’Angelo Russell, to be fair), barely played in the game’s most important minutes. They scored a combined nine points, and the Jazz attacked them on the defensive end.

When the Lakers were up 10 points with 1:43 left in the game, the Jazz fought back in even more hilarious fashion. As James and Davis scuffled, this was the key shot on the Jazz’s end of the floor:

“Kelly’s three... that was awesome,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “We’re lucky the backboard was there.”

But the very best part of it was the drama of it all. GM Justin Zanik and assistant GM David Fizdale were sitting courtside in owner Ryan Smith’s seats. Meanwhile, CEO Danny Ainge sat behind them in his usual seat. And while the Jazz’s front office would prefer the team lose right now, they watched as the team they constructed have too much fight to give up the loss.

Well, except Ainge. With 11 seconds to go in regulation, he left his seat to head to the locker room tunnel. Maybe he couldn’t handle the drama (like Billy Beane in Moneyball), or didn’t want his reaction caught on tape. I don’t know the reason truthfully. Regardless, Ainge’s departure fit the zany moment purposely.

In the end, everyone got what they wanted: the Lakers got the win that they were fighting for, to maintain some sort of respectable playoff position. (However, their next matchup, against the Clippers tomorrow, got much harder.) The Jazz got their loss, to stay in 9th in the tank race.

This season has been so enjoyable, in so many different ways. This team refuses to die, no matter the circumstance.

2. Damian Jones, capable center

Damian Jones had his best game in a Jazz uniform, scoring 16 points on 5-5 FG, including 3-3 from deep, plus 3-4 free throws. He also added eight rebounds and an assist in his 32 minutes.

Frankly, I was most impressed with the defense at the end of the game. Here, he’s switched out on literal LeBron James... and James simply can’t get by him.

As James cut backdoor for the potential game-winning layup, Jones met him at the rim, jumped vertically, and forced the miss.

Again, LeBron iso’d on Jones... and he can’t do anything. Plus, this is a great contest from a center on a jump shot in this situation, in my opinion.

Obviously, 16 points on 5 shots is great. Jones is now shooting 10-13 from three since joining the Jazz, which definitely won’t continue. But him being even just a capable shooter does open up some possibilities for his team when he’s out there on the floor. This is clumsy footwork on the pick-and-pop... but it does work.

Next year, he has a player option for $2.5 million. This is where his agent will have to do some hardcore agenting, to figure out whether or not he has enough NBA interest to ensure he’ll definitely get an NBA contract next year. Generally, I’d say a Laker castoff should just pick up the option, but I think he’s played well in a Jazz uniform, and another team might jump at, say, a two-year minimum deal.

But I’d welcome him back on the Jazz next year. As a backup center, he’s serviceable, but he’s at least a pretty good third center.

3. Officiating toward the Lakers

This game had some pretty one-sided calls toward L.A., which only served to extend the hilarity of the Jazz making it a contest anyway.

That’s been a trend. The Lakers lead the league in free-throw disparity this season, by an absolutely massive margin. (@NBACouchside on Twitter first pointed this out, I think.)


Now, wait, you might say, the Lakers have had some huge calls go against them this season! Remember the missed call in the Lakers/Celtics game, on January 28? The one that cost them a game? The one that led to the best technical in NBA history? The one that led to an apology from the referees, saying that it cost them sleepless nights?

Since that game, the Lakers have had an even larger gap in free throws per game. They’re getting six points per game more than anyone in the league.

Here’s the data since that game:


It’s laughable. Yes, clearly, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are good foul drawers, and it’s not a surprise that they would go to the line often.

But the biggest difference is the fouls not being called against the Lakers on defense — James, D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Austin Reaves, Malik Beasley, and Rui Hachimura are somehow all at career lows when it comes to fouls committed per 36 minutes this season, or since they’ve been found themselves in a Lakers’ uniform.

Hey, maybe that’s just remarkably good coaching.

In the end, I just want fair officiating. I want the referees on the court to make the same calls towards both teams. If you argue that they are, despite these statistics... well, at least there’s an argument to be made, due to the talent the Lakers possess.

However, what was unacceptable is the referees’ off-court Twitter apology for the Lakers call, and not all the other big missed calls this season. That’s not acceptable, to treat missed calls differently after the fact and after time for self-reflection. It reveals big-market bias, at least in this way.