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SALT LAKE CITY — A Ty Lue challenge finished off the Utah Jazz on Monday in Los Angeles.
Talen Horton-Tucker sprinted down the court, absorbed contact from Amir Coffey and scooped in a layup. With 56 seconds left in the game, the reserve guard had a chance to cut the Clippers lead to just 2 points. Or so he thought.
Lue, the Clippers coach, signaled for a challenge, thinking (hoping?) Coffey had established legal guarding before Horton-Tucker had driven into him. It was close. Very close. In the end, to the chagrin of Jazz fans everywhere, the officials agreed with Lue. It was ruled a charge on Horton-Tucker, and the Clippers held on for a 121-114 win over the Jazz at Crypto.com Arena.
The Jazz dropped to 12-7 on the season with the loss. Jordan Clarkson had 26 points, four assists and four rebounds to lead the Jazz, and Lauri Markkanen added 25 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.
The pivotal late call wasn't the sole reason Utah fell to the Clippers — the Jazz can also point to some horrid turnovers, poor transition defense, a tough shooting night, and a less-than-stellar fourth quarter — but it did serve as the final death blow to Utah's chances.
There's been a long held notion that a defensive player must be "planted" in order to draw a charging foul. That isn't necessarily true — at least not anymore.
So whether or not Coffey had his feet set or was stationary wasn't really the issue here, neither was where the contact took place. Shoulder or chest, it doesn't matter, as long as the defender is in legal guarding position. The officials deemed Coffee had.
"The defender establishes a legal guarding position in the path of the offensive player, and the offensive player makes contact in the torso," referee Tyler Ford explained.
Now, his legal guarding position is somewhat subjective. Apparently, so. Jazz fans, obviously, saw a bad call; Clippers fans saw a great overturn; and both could have made a pretty compelling case.
Regardless, it went against the Jazz. And for a team that had already fought back from being down 17 points in the second quarter and were in the process of battling back from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit, it was a bit hard to stomach.
"(Horton-Tucker) making that free throw, 2-point game, 55 seconds ago, I think we were right there," Markkanen said. "On the road, having a 2-point game, getting a stop and giving us a chance to win the game. And so it was a big, big one."
But there were other problems along the way.
Utah had what coach Will Hardy called "gross" turnovers in the first half. That led to some easy buckets in transition for the Clippers and helped LA jump out to a 17-point lead. The turnover bug returned in the fourth quarter when Utah had six giveaways to only one assist.
"Some of it is just not executing, some of it is not being strong with the ball, some of it is poor play-calling by me," Hardy said. "There's a variety of reasons, but it's deflating to start the game with six turnovers in the first quarter."
And more so deflating to end it the same way.
A lot of that can probably be credited to Mike Conley not in the game. Backup Collin Sexton isn't a point guard — at least not yet — Nickeil Alexander-Walker was minus-14 in his minutes, and Horton-Tucker struggled in the first half before finding a rhythm in the latter part of the game.
Adjustments were expected, and the team admitted it'll take some time for new lineups and rotations to find a groove.
Utah did, however, find some success in the third quarter. The Jazz went on a 23-6 run in the closing minutes of the third quarter to take a 5-point. Ultimately, though, the same things that hurt the Jazz early got them again late.
The turnovers returned, the shooting cooled and the Clippers went on a 20-8 run to take control of the game — again.
That made it so the Jazz weren't able to overcome a critical call late in the game.