SALT LAKE CITY — A soft smile appeared on Mike Conley's face as he slowly shrugged. He knew what everyone else did: The Jazz got away with one on Friday night.
Rudy Gobert was credited for a block on Damian Lillard with 13.5 seconds left that helped the Jazz hold on to a 117-114 win, but everyone — and we do mean everyone — knew what really happened; it was a goaltend, and an obvious one at that. The ball hit off the backboard long before Gobert swatted it away.
The drive should have tied the game; it should have set up the Jazz for one last chance to win in regulation. Instead, it left Lillard jumping and screaming in anger, looking for help from anyone. And then after the final buzzer, after Portland had missed a 3-pointer to tie the game, Lillard had to be restrained as he angrily barked at the officials looking for justice.
It's hard to call the ending controversial because there really wasn't much controversy. The officials missed a call.
The refs themselves admitted it, stating, "a goaltending violation should have been called." The Jazz admitted it with Gobert saying, "obviously after watching the replay you can see it's a goaltending." And of course, the Blazers knew it with Portland coach Terry Stotts calling it "a shame that it was decided by an inexcusable missed call."
It was inexcusable. It was clear as day. But since no whistle was blown, it couldn't be reviewed.
"We get to the last play of the game, and they miss an easy call," Lillard said. "And then they tell it was an easy no call. It cost us the game, man. It cost us the game."
Mike Conley's reaction... 😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/ozdoltNjS4— Ryan Miller (@millerjryan) February 8, 2020
To be sure, the Blazers did have one last chance to tie things up. After Bojan Bogdanovic missed one of two free throws, Caleb Swanigan — who has made one 3-pointer in his career — had an open look from the corner that missed. But the damage was already done before that shot ever left Swanigan's hand. The Blazers felt cheated; they felt wronged.
Mitchell admitted that late-game situations like that should be reviewable, but did add a disclaimer: "Not tonight."
"We've been on the other side of that," Mitchell said, recounting a late missed call against Memphis. "I understand the frustration."
Actually, the Jazz had been feeling a lot of frustration lately, and that includes early in the game on Friday.
In the first half, Mitchell, Gobert and Joe Ingles sat on the bench together desperately trying to figure it all out. Lillard was torching them (again), and so were the rest of the Blazers. In what must have felt like a recurring nightmare, the Jazz were again losing to a short-handed team on the second night of a back to back.
Early on, it was Gobert that was screaming at the refs in frustration; it was Mitchell getting a technical after being irritated by Gary Trent Jr.; and it was the Utah fans booing just about everyone and everything. The refs, Carmelo Anthony, even their own team — nothing was off-limits for the fans as they grew more and more vexed by what was occurring as Portland jumped out to a 16-point lead in the second quarter.
Rudy Gobert admits it was a goaltend. "Just trying to make a play on the ball." pic.twitter.com/iLTjzGLL0F— Ryan Miller (@millerjryan) February 8, 2020
Lillard had a perfect start. He scored 16 points in the first quarter and didn't miss a shot. By halftime, he was up to 27 points and the Blazers had a 14-point lead. Even an injury to Anfernee Simons and the ejection of Trevor Ariza that reduced the Portland rotation to just seven players, wasn't helping the Jazz keep things close.
The Jazz were down and staring straight at their sixth straight loss — once again in head-scratching fashion. But for the first time in nearly two weeks, they turned things around. In the second half, they started attacking the undersized Trail Blazers and got some luck when Lillard finally cooled off a bit.
By the end of the third quarter, the Jazz had cut the lead to one. And by midway through the fourth quarter, following an emphatic dunk by Gobert and a crowd-raising three by Bogdanovic, the Jazz led by five.
"There are times when you have to change what you're doing and there are other times when you have to dig in and compete and do it better," Utah head coach Quin Snyder said. "More than any breakdown there were some plays in the first half that were just grit type plays that we didn't make. I thought, you just get to a point where nothing else matters except competing and winning the game."
Damian Lillard was furious after the no-call toward the end of the Blazers' loss. pic.twitter.com/KHrr6AZhgd— ESPN (@espn) February 8, 2020
The Jazz knew they got away with a goaltend, but they don't think that tarnished the effort they made to come back from 16 down on Friday. Bogdanovic led the Jazz with 27 points, Gobert had 16 points and 14 rebounds and Conley had 18 for the Jazz.
"We started to play defense," Gobert said. "Our mindset, I think our toughness. Everything. Communication. I think everything changed in the second half. We were a different team."
And that, more than a missed call, is why the Jazz ended their five-game losing streak. But the refs swallowing the whistle sure didn't hurt things, especially after Lillard found his groove again in the fourth quarter.
With 1:11 remaining, Lillard hit a leaning 3-pointer to tie the game. Then with 40 seconds remaining he hit a floater to tie the game again. And then after Mitchell made a quick move to the hoop for a layup to put the Jazz up, Lillard nearly answered. Actually, he did answer. It just didn't count.
Lillard finished with 42 points. He'll tell you he should have had at least 44.
As for Jazz? They'll just shrug.