Controversial as it might have been, no one was particularly shocked Kobe Bryant got the call he did to help force overtime in the Jazz's eventual Thursday-night loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
That's not a cry of conspiracy but rather one of reality.
The NBA is a star-driven league. Bryant shines. And in cases of doubt, especially when a game is on the line and cameras from a network like TNT are rolling, Kobe is more inclined than a Devin Brown to have one go his way.
No one with the Jazz was saying precisely that Friday morning, in the aftermath of Utah's stunning 105-101 Delta Center loss to the Lakers. Yet one could sense some might have been thinking along those lines.
"Miss America gets all the dates," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "You have to understand that."
The Jazz, down earlier by as many as 14, rallied to take a 92-90 lead with 4.3 seconds remaining in regulation. After a 20-second Lakers timeout, Bryant rose and hoisted a long jumper that missed. Referee Ron Olesiak ruled that Bryant had stepped on the 3-point line, making the shot a 2-pointer and that Bryant was fouled on the play by Brown. Bryant made both ensuing free throws with 0.4 seconds left to force overtime, and L.A. won the five-minute extra period 13-9.
Video replays and still photographs clearly show Bryant extending his shooting arm after the shot to help draw the foul. Afterward, he suggested the call was quite justified but for a different reason.
"He (Brown) kicked my legs out from under me," Bryant said. "When it's a questionable call, the refs usually won't make the call when the game's on the line, but that was an easy call."
Brown evidently did not agree, and video replays backed his contention.
"To me," he said while still in the Jazz locker room minutes after the loss, "that's a tough call to make with the game on the line like that."
Even Lakers coach Phil Jackson hedged: "We needed a lucky call at the end of the game to (win)," he said.
Luck? Incompetence? Something else?
The Jazz don't know what to call the call.
"Basketball is a game of mistakes, and, obviously, I make them," Sloan said. "And the players make them. Coaches. And the officials make them once in a while, too. . . ."
Sloan, who afterward said he was blocked out and never even saw the play, did not finish his thought Friday.
He did not make the leap.
He didn't need to.
Jazz player reaction immediately after Bryant's shot missed, though, reveals what many thought.
"I saw it. I didn't see a foul," said rookie point guard Deron Williams, on the floor at the time. "I thought we won the game, then I heard a whistle blow. I look over at coach, and they were congratulating each other and about to walk off the court when they called the foul."
"I thought the game was over," added Andrei Kirilenko, a Jazz captain. "It was kind of a tough decision. It's hard for referee to judge 'foul, not foul' especially when Kobe is with the ball. He is so aggressive."
Brown, for his part, said he did all he could on Bryant.
"You knew Kobe was going to get it," he said. "They went into (isolation). He was going for the 3. They wanted to get the win. And he stepped on the line. As soon as he went up, I just put my hands straight up and he kind of gave an 'oohhhh' and I couldn't believe that ref made that call.
"You've got to make him shoot over you, you know? You've got to make him hit those shots. . . . You just put a hand up. And it's either going to go in, or it's not. But they called a foul. It's tough. It's tough to play the whole game, come back, fight back like we did and for it to come down to one call."
Not that it ever should have come to that, some with the Jazz maintain.
"We're not getting the breaks," said Matt Harpring, another Jazz captain. "But we were down, and you can't wait until the fourth quarter or overtime to start playing the game.
"It's a tough play," Harpring added. "What are you going to say? The ball game doesn't come down to one play."
But does it come down to one star?
Sloan, still waiting for Michael Jordan to be called for pushing off on Bryon Russell in NBA Finals history, feels it has in the past.
"I've always had a little bit of a problem with 'Who are they looking at?' " the Jazz coach said. "That's the only thing I'd say on that."
Well, not quite all.
Added Sloan, referencing Jordan and Russell: "I've always said that: If the situation was reversed, it would be a different call. That's the only problem I have."
Actually, there's another.Comment on this story
"Obviously, there was a lot more people in the building to see Kobe Bryant than to see our guys," Sloan said after the Jazz played in front of an announced 18,008, just their third crowd of more than 18,000 in eight home games this season. "I understand that but it's still not fair."NOTES: Thursday's game officially lasted three hours and 10 minutes, ending at 12:01 a.m. Friday. It was the second-longest game timewise in regular-season Jazz history, falling one minute short of a 126-123 triple-overtime home win over Chicago on Feb. 3, 1992 and three minutes longer than the next-longest, a 105-101 Delta Center victory over the Lakers on Jan. 24, 2000 . . . The Los Angeles Daily News' description of the foul by Brown: "Bryant appeared to get off the shot cleanly, but Brown made contact after his release." . . . Jazz point guard Keith McLeod said Friday he is making progress and hopes to return sometime next week from an avulsion fracture in his lower back that's caused him to miss the past nine games. "I'm doing way more than I was before," he said. McLeod still has not, however, taken part in a full practice. . . . The Jazz, losers of three straight, play four games in six nights next week, beginning Sunday at Portland.