SALT LAKE CITY — There were on-court reasons the Utah Jazz lost to the Philadelphia 76ers 131-123 on Wednesday — their transition defense was poor, they turned the ball over way too much, they gave up a game-tying three in the closing seconds — but that all was pushed way to the back burner as soon as Donovan Mitchell sat down for his postgame interview.
“It’s tough to go out there and see how we fight and compete and to have a game like that taken from us,” Mitchell said. “I’m never, ever one to blame a ref, to blame an official. I could say, ‘We could have done more’ but this is getting out of hand.”
The game that featured each conference’s top team turned, unfortunately, into a debate about officiating. A parade of calls all seemed to go against the Jazz down the stretch, sending the Jazz into a spiral they never could get out of in an overtime loss. Eventually, it led to Mitchell being ejected in the final minute of the game and slamming over a Gatorade cooler as he made his way back into the tunnel.
“He’s gonna have nights where he gets frustrated like that and he has to let that out at some point,” Mike Conley said. “Maybe that’ll draw some attention and we’ll win the war later. It’s just one battle tonight and it’s a long season ahead.”
The frustration did boil over, which was, frankly, a shame. Up until late in the game, it had been a very well-played game between two elite clubs. Joel Embiid was otherworldly, scoring 40 points, including a game-tying step-back 3-pointer with 6.5 seconds left, and grabbed 19 rebounds.
Mitchell, himself, had 33 points and the Jazz hit 21 3s. The fact Utah shot 47% from 3-point range and it wasn’t a blowout showed just how good of a game it was.
Then came the calls and the anger.
An apparent Royce O’Neale save ended with Philly having the ball; Ben Simmons hooked Mitchell’s arms, and the Jazz guard was whistled for a foul; Embiid gestured to the refs that Mitchell should be given a technical for reacting to a Gobert foul — and the refs obliged.
It all just spiraled out of control for Utah.
The Jazz lost their composure, and then they explained why after the game. Was it a frustrating loss? Of course. But it was compounded by the fact they feel they haven’t been given a fair shake in numerous games this season — not to mention in past seasons. It all came to a boiling point Wednesday.
“I’m gonna give them (the 76ers) credit, they won, whatever, cool, but like, this is a consistent thing,” Mitchell said. “And you know, the question is can we do it? Can we sustain it? Are we really No. 1? Like hell yeah we are, and it’s getting ridiculous that this is what’s happened. I mean, we have a whole second half of the season to go and get ready for but, like, I’m sick of it. We all are.
“This is something that just — it eats at me, man. Y’all know what it is, we all know what it is, but it’s really getting out of hand. It’s really, really, really getting out of hand and the league needs to do something about this.”
Mitchell was first to talk after the tough loss, but he was far from the last. There were a few comments about the game (Jazz coach Quin Snyder credited Embiid making his late game-tying 3 and Conley who said he was happy with the look he got to win the game in regulation), but mostly they were centered around how the Jazz have been officiated this season.
In short, it was Utah’s plea for more respect.
“As I’ve been in this league and I’ve been watching a lot of games, I feel like a lot of guys are able to do things that we’re not able to do,” Gobert said. “And our guys are not able to get some calls that everybody else in the league gets. We know that we are the Utah Jazz and we know maybe some people don’t want to see us go as far as I believe that we can go, but it’s disappointing.”
Gobert expressed frustration about how he saw Conley get grabbed on multiple possessions on drives and the whistle was swallowed. Then on the other end he felt there were “invisible” calls being made.
“I think it’s disrespectful to the game of basketball and to our team,” Gobert said. “Hopefully they’re gonna watch the game when they get home, we all do, I watch it, too. Hopefully they feel shame when they watch the game.”
Gobert said that it’s life as a “small-market” team. And, yes, he thinks it may just be intentional.
“It’s not just one play — we all make mistakes,” Gobert said. “I mean, I’ve got lots of respect for the officials. I think it’s a tough, tough job. I think they try their best, but It was too obvious tonight. They can’t make it that obvious. … We deserve a little more respect as a team and us as human beings for the work that we put in. Hopefully we get it the second half of the season.”
Looking ahead to that second half is likely why the Jazz decided to go in on the officials tonight. Yes, they will be fined — and maybe quite a bit — but maybe, just maybe, it will lead to a more friendly (or neutral) whistle down the road.
“I mean we shouldn’t have to say that we have to say it because everyone’s watching, everyone knows what’s going on,” Gobert said. “If we don’t say now, it might be too late.”