SALT LAKE CITY — Ricky Rubio wasn’t about to explicitly say what he really thought.
He’ll just let everyone else fill in the gaps.
When asked if James Harden traveled on the double step-back 3-point attempt that led to free throws in Houston’s 102-97 win over Utah, the Jazz point guard more or less suggested asking everyone else who had seen the play.
"I'm not going to answer, but I think 100 percent of the people know the answer,” Rubio said.
Anyone with eyes at least. Harden gathered and then took a step to the side. And then took another step to the side. It was four steps. A clear travel.
That’s the challenging part of playing Harden. He’s the master of trickery, of catching defenders arms, of creating space. It’s frustrating to guard. And also frustrating to officiate.
Harden leads the league with 10.2 free-throw attempts per game. Nothing the Jazz saw — with maybe the exception of the new double step-back — was new. It was Harden’s old tricks. The Jazz knew what he was going to do and still got caught reaching their arms out. And the officials knew how he likes to play and still found themselves calling fouls on not-so-foul-like contact.
Harden fools defenders. He fools officials. Love him or hate him, that’s who he is.
“What do you want me to say?,” Harden told ESPN after the game. “Tell on myself?”
Well, if you're asking...
The double step-back resulted in two points that pushed the Houston lead to five points with 54.6 seconds remaining, but it wasn’t the only time Harden managed to get to the line. Harden was 15 of 16 from the charity stripe in Monday's win.
“He’s going to do that,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We fouled him. Anytime he gets double-digit free throws, he’s tough to beat. We lost our focus a little bit. We put him on the line, and that makes it really hard.”
Harden went to the line 10 times between the second and third quarters, helping Houston build double-digit leads in both quarters. Yes, some of those were just as controversial to Jazz fans as the non-traveling call, with Harden initiating contact on calls that went against Rudy Gobert and Jae Crowder. But the Jazz expected those types of moves heading into the game.
“My focus is us being in the right stance and the right body position,” Snyder said. “Whether there is going to be a call or not is something we can’t control.”
And those foul calls took away from what was otherwise a good defensive showing from the Jazz. Utah held Houston to 37.2 percent from the field and only one Rocket player shot over 50 percent from the field.
It also prevented the Jazz from completing an 18-point comeback and overcoming a poor offensive night themselves — something they have struggled to do this season.
“I think we played great tonight,” Rubio said. “We made some mistakes tonight. We played better. We made our run and it was a close game. We’ve been playing better lately. And (we) had a chance to win at the end; that’s all you want.”
But asked again about the officiating on Harden, Rubio wouldn’t budge.
“You want me to get fined, huh?” Rubio said.