On Saturday night, in front of the home crowd, Utah Jazz first-year head coach Will Hardy popped his cherry vs. the Portland Trail Blazers. Not his first win — that achievement has been long in the books.
Hardy was called for his first technical foul as a head coach after Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson was hacked on a slam-dunk attempt, crashing down to the floor with a massive thud. In Hardy's estimation, he's surprised Official Tony Brothers didn't eject him from the game Jerry Sloan style.
“Yeah, it should have been two [technicals]," Hardy said post-game. "I should have gotten thrown out. That play was gross. I’m happy that Jordan’s not hurt."
Hardy wasn't trying to throw shade at Portland's Jabari Walker and Jusuf Nurkic. There didn't appear to be anything flagrant in the intent. But Clarkson was clearly fouled, and hard, at the end of the third quarter of a very competitive game.
Brothers' officiating crew missed the obvious call in a big, bad way. He likely regrets that one upon further review, but sometimes calls get missed in the NBA. Charge it to the game.
"Not that it was a dirty play," Hardy continued. "I don’t think there was any intent for it to be dirty, but when a guy goes up in the air and lands on his back going for a dunk, you would hope that that one gets called but, again, that’s life in the NBA. I’ll have to rethink my Christmas shopping.”
I'm not certain what Hardy's "Christmas" quip to punctuate his remarks meant, but he was right to be angry and vocal in his criticism of Brothers in-game. It cost the Jazz a technical foul, but it showed the players that their head coach will go to bat for them when the chips are down.
Clarkson was banged up, but was unhurt. It wasn't his most efficient night, going just 10-of-26 (38.5%) from the field and finishing with a team-high 24 points. Lauri Markkanen dropped 21 points, with three other Jazzmen hitting double figures.
Utah's biggest problem wasn't scoring. It was the team's soft first-half defense that saw Portland hang 40 points on the Jazz in the first frame. The Jazz chipped away at Portland's scoring somewhat in the second quarter, surrendering 29 points to make it 69-60 at the break.
While the lead changed 14 times, and Utah stormed back with a much more physical and intense second-half effort, the damage was done in that first quarter. Anfernee Simons finished with 45 points, shooting 7-of-12 from three-point land.
Allowing Simons to see so many shots drop early on gave him the confidence to maintain that scorer's rhythm throughout. Portland defeated Utah 116-111.
“Four of his first threes, the guy guarding him was either at the three-point line, or under it," Hardy said of Simons' scoring. "He’s a very, very elite scorer, and he can really score in bunches. So our pickup points, getting into the ball, to start, were not good. And if you let a great scorer like that see three or four go in, you can be at his mercy. There were for sure five or six shots that he made where you just shake his hand and say, ‘Hey, man. You’re pretty good.’”
Clarkson had the chance to redeem the Jazz in the closing seconds but was stripped on an inbound pass. Ball game.
The Jazz are learning a lot about themselves and their new head coach. Hardy's end-of-game decision-making, specifically opting not to foul in the final 30 seconds, was questionable, but he's learning from his own trial-and-error process as a head coach.
Next up, the Jazz will host a rematch with Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year in Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night. The Jazz fell to the Warriors on the road on November 25, 129-118.
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