1. The no-call.
So obviously, any discussion of this one needs to start right here:
(Vine credit: Bleacher Report’s Andy Bailey.)
While you can’t really expect refs to win games for you, this one was a painful no-call for Rodney Hood and the Jazz. Full disclosure: I actually agreed with the no-call when I watched it live because I, like JT Orr, saw Hood’s leg flare out to his right before he came down. What various replay angles made clear is that his leg came out as a result of the contact, not in some desperate ploy to initiate it1.
It was a desperate shot after a poorly executed and broken-down last play… but it’s hard to look at that video and not think that Hood was fouled. He was behind the three point line and his team was down two. Go to all the time-tested clichés here2, but it still feels like this one could have gone a different way.
This is a great case study to analyze the merits of in-game reviews on contact / no-contact calls. Currently the NBA rules only allow reviews for things like possession, shot-clock and flagrant fouls. On a night like tonight, a quick trip to the table might have allowed Orr and his colleagues to correct their real-time perception of a Hood kick-out, and the Jazz, down two, would have had a chance to win the game from the stripe.
It’s a worthy debate, although I totally get why the NBA doesn’t want to go to all-out review on every questionable foul call (or no-call). NBA games have a staggering amount of contact, on and off the ball. In close games, every single possession has a number of questionably-legal screens, contact-laden rebound scrums, mutual holds and the like, and that’s without even taking into account the sometimes subjective nature of what happens on-ball at the point of attack. If every ambiguous contact situation were subject to review, it would absolutely kill the flow of the game and neuter referees. That’s a big price to pay to get 100% of the calls right.
Is it worth it? Maybe, just know that every play has multiple things that could be reviewed if we go down that path. Playoff games would last 5 hours.
A far more likely (if also half-assed) measure would be something like what the D League implemented this year: a limited-use coach’s challenge that could be pulled out at moments like this. Of course, then it’s on Quin Snyder and other coaches to make sure they’ve preserved that chip for the final second, but if not, it would be harder to blame the referees when a call goes the wrong way.
In the end, I doubt this impacts the long-term discussion around foul reviews much. If this were a highly visible game that impacted playoff seeding, it would be easier for the NBA community to grab onto this blown call and make it Exhibit A for the progressive review movement. As it stands, both teams will just move on from here, and both will be on a beach in two weeks anyway.
Update: The NBA indeed confirmed that it was an incorrect no-call when they released the last two minute report for that game. So now you can feel vindicated, treat that one as a win in your mind3. Ah, sweet vindication.
2. The other 47:59.
The Jazz played well enough to be one whistle away from winning 10 of 13 on the road, despite having to weather a bunch of issues.
Gordon Hayward was not himself tonight, missing 10 of his first 12 shots and racking up turnovers. Thanks to a 5-for-5 stretch late, he still finished with 21-6-4, but the Jazz had to find other ways to keep themselves in it.
Rudy Gobert also struggled early, and we’ve seen small lineups syphon away some of his effectiveness at times. Tonight, Phoenix went to a bunch of 4-out and 5-out lineups, and Rudy had a hard time making himself felt in the first half. He was scoreless at the break, with almost as many turnovers (3) as rebounds (4). Like Hayward, he recovered nicely out of the locker room, doing most of his damage in the third quarter.
The Jazz were also without Trey Burke (lower back), which meant more minutes went to fringe NBA players. Say what you will about Burke’s efficiency problems4, but he’s an NBA player. His absence meant Bryce Cotton was pressed into service, and it… didn’t go that well. Cotton struggled to execute for the Jazz in the first half. In his five first half minutes (small sample size alert, but still), the Jazz’s offensive efficiency was 33.7.5.
The larger point here is this: a 30-win team shouldn’t be able to compete on the road with a .500ish outfit when that many things are going wrong. The Jazz were able to tough it out until they could get everybody going, and they did it the way they have been doing: defense.
Defense tends to travel better than other aspects of the game, which is probably why the Jazz are suddenly a decent road team. Tonight, 41 of Phoenix’s 69 attempts were contested, and they were held well below their season average for points in the paint (-5.3) and fast break points (-3.6).
Of course, a couple of things went right for the Jazz, too…
3. The rookies.
Rodney Hood and Dante Exum had pretty exciting starts to the ball game.
With Hayward struggling, Hood took the reins of the stagnant Jazz offense and made one smooth move after another. The highlight of the night was a behind-the-back crossover move that sent Gerald Green dancing while Hood knocked down an 18-footer. That’s a grown-up move right there.
Exum carried over his aggressive play from Wednesday night, but this time looked for his own shot once he got into the middle of the floor. He hit a nice pull-up elbow jumper, a driving floater and a spot-up three, in addition to his nicest play of the night. His defender was trying to ball deny out front, so Trevor Booker signaled for Exum to make a hard back-cut, and rewarded him with a pass for a two-hand dunk.
It looked like we were headed toward a vibrant Game Ball debate between Hood and Exum, who accounted for 24 of Utah’s first-half points. But alas, both came to a grinding halt after that. Hood added just two more buckets after intermission, and Dante was scoreless. That’s the nature of the process for rookies, and I’m sure both will learn how to sustain an effort like that over the course of the game.
In Dante’s case, the ankle tweak might have been an issue. He left the gym for a few moments to get retaped, and while he did return to the game after that, he was never as aggressive from that point forward. Hopefully it’s nothing that will keep him from contributing in these final six games, because Exum certainly has a lot to gain from this last week and a half of on-the-job training.