Controversy Clouds Loss To Jazz In Salt Lake City

by Casey Holdahl
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SALT LAKE CITY -- It is often said that the NBA is a “make or miss league.” That’s not usually a reference to officiating, though it was certainly applicable in Friday night’s game in Salt Lake City between two Northwest Division foes.

The Trail Blazers fell 117-114 to the Jazz in an affair that was contentious from start to finish and was ultimately marred by a missed goaltending call in the final moments of regulation.

“I was really proud of our guys," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "I mean obviously we’re short-handed and it was an outstanding effort by everyone who played. And it’s just a shame that it was decided on an inexcusable missed call. There’s no other way to describe it. They could have called goaltending and reviewed it. But they swallowed their whistles on a play that was pretty obvious. So it’s disappointing that such great effort was decided by that."

The Trail Blazers are now 24-29 overall and 10-18 on the road this season. With the win, the Jazz lead the season series 2-1 with one game left to play in Portland. The Blazers are currently ninth in the Western Conference, 1.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot.

Friday's game was always going to be a difficult one for the Trail Blazers. With starting center Hassan Whiteside ruled out before the game with a lower leg contusion, Nassir Little not with the team due to a sprained left ankle and Rodney Hood, Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic all continuing their injury rehabilitation, Portland had just nine players in uniform.

But it wouldn't stay that way. Anfernee Simons was undercut by Utah forward Royce O'Neale on a jumpshot attempt, resulting in Simons smelling the back of his head on the court. After spending a few minutes on the deck, Simons left the court under his own power, though he was later diagnosed with a contusion and did not return, leaving Portland with eight players.

And then there were seven after Trevor Ariza was ejected after being called for double technical fouls for charging and yelling at a referee after a non-call with over 10 minutes to play in the second quarter.

But despite being down to just seven players for nearly three-fourths of the game, the Blazers held the lead and went up by as many as 16 points in the third quarter.

But fatigue -- not only were the Blazers down to seven men, they were also playing at elevation on the second night of a back-to-back -- and frustration with the officiating started to catch up with the visitors by the midway point of the third quarter. The Jazz held the Trail Blazers to 28 percent shooting from the field and just 1-of-8 shooting from three to outscore the visitors 39-17 in the third, giving Portland just a one-point lead going into the fourth.

From there, it seemed as though Utah might pull away in the fourth, but despite many excuses, Portland never relented. Damian Lillard seemingly willed himself to the rim and made two three-pointers, both of which came with a high degree of difficulty. CJ McCollum made two three-pointers as well and Gary Trent Jr. played dogged defense.

So rather than fold up, Portland overcame a seven-point Utah lead with just over three minutes to play to tie the game at 112-112 after Lillard's second three-pointer with 1:17 to play in regulation.

“I love the way we played," said Lillard. "We were on a back-to-back against a team that plays really well at home and we came out and did what we were supposed to do. We had a great first half, they made their run, got back into the game and we weathered the storm and we gave ourselves a chance to win a tough game on the road."

After trading baskets, Donovan Mitchell gave the Jazz the lead on a driving layup with 19.5 to play.

On the ensuing possession, Lillard drove and drew contact from O'Neale before placing the ball off the glass. But Jazz center Rudy Gobert slapped the ball away after it touch the glass, which constitutes an obvious goaltend, though none of the three referees made the call. And since no call was made, there was no review triggered, resulting in the Jazz getting the ball and ultimately the victory.

"I'm telling (the referees) they're grabbing and bumping the whole game, that's fine," said an infuriated Lillard post-game. "We get to the last play of the game and they miss an easy call. And then they tell us 'It's an easy no-call,' that was obviously not a goaltend. It cost us a (expletive) game. Cost us a game."

As multiple players noted, it's not uncommon, or even unexpected, for officials to miss calls. But the seemingly obvious nature of the missed goaltend call Friday night, along with the fact the Trail Blazers are fighting for their playoff lives, left everyone in Portland's locker room as angry as many who have covered the team for years have ever seen them.

"It's an easy call," said Lillard. "Three referees out there and they don't call that. And I don't want to see no report about 'oh, we should have called it' or none of that. They cost us the game. We in a playoff race and they cost us a game, on an easy call."

With Utah corralling the rebound, Portland had to foul, sending Bojan Bogdaanovic to the line, where he went one of two. Portland had once last chance to send the game to overtime, but Caleb Swanigan's three from the corner was well off, giving the Jazz the three-point victory.

Lillard led all scorers with 42 points on 16-of-30 shooting from the field, 8-of-14 shooting from three and 2-of-3 shooting from the free throw line. Lillard also finished with six assists, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 43 minutes.

CJ McCollum shot 10-of-23 from the field and 50 percent from three to finish with 27 points, five rebounds and three assists in 42 minutes. Gary Trent Jr. added 16 points an d Mario Hezonja did yeoman's work to the tune of 11 points, six rebounds, three steals and an assist in 26 minutes.

Six Jazz players scored in double figures led bye 27 points from Bojan Bogdanovic. Mike Conley went for 18 points while Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, both of whom will play in the 2020 All-Star Game, both finished with 16 points.

The Trail Blazers now have Saturday off before hosting the Miami Heat in their first and only trip to the Moda Center this season. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.

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