Make no mistake: NBA official Joey Crawford personally was responsible for ruining this game, and cost the Rockets a win.
Steve Francis exploded for 27 points in the first half alone, but was tossed at the beginning of the third quarter as the result of a mystery technical foul called by Crawford, Francis' second on the night, and the Jazz went on to beat the Rockets 83-79 in the Delta Center.
Words can't describe how bad this call was. Ludicrous. A total outrage. This garbage ref tosses a team's best player, having a career night, for nothing more than throwing his hand back? That's all Francis did... John Stockton (19 points, 6 assists) was up on him, Francis passed to his left and threw his arm back in frustration.
Crawford knew the impact Francis was having on the game. He knew he had one technical already. He kicked him anyway.
If the league doesn't review the play and discipline this official for what was clearly a game-deciding screw-up, it will be just another black mark on the NBA, which in my mind has taken quite a few steps down in quality over the past few years.
You can see why Rockets fans would be upset over such a bogus call -- Francis only went gonzo in the first half, hitting 9-13 shots for 27 points, and nailed 4 three-point bombs. The Delta Center fans were even stunned and amazed at the show the guy was putting on, letting out "ooohs" each time Francis drained another 18-footer.
Even these fans, people who would cheer Karl Malone hitting Kevin Garnett with a lead pipe, were shocked when Francis was tossed. It was like they lost out on a big chunk of their entertainment on the night and a big fat asterick was placed on their ticket stubs.
And the officiating overall, as it is most times against the Jazz, was just horrible. One play jumped out where Griffin set a pick, Moochie Norris went around him and Stockton ran in to Griffin. We were treated to an acting job on the flop that makes Keanu Reeves look like an Oscar winner, and Stockton stunningly got the call. Offensive foul on Griffin.
I mean, are the refs really this stupid? Even Calvin Murphy said it... Malone and Stockton can only get away with this while the refs allow it, and they've been allowed to do it for years.
Everyone lost tonight... well, except the Jazz, who got two more Malone free throws (as if the 8 previous in the fourth quarter weren't enough) with 25 seconds left that proved to be enough for the win. Cuttino Mobley's 19-footer with 8 seconds left was short, and when the Jazz made their free throws, the outcome was set.
Mobley has been a serious enigma. He had just 6 points through three quarters, but scored 13 in the fourth (19 overall). He hit a clutch shot (and tough at that) with 39 seconds left, tying the game at 79, but missed the final shot and a pair of free throws in the final period. 7-for-18 overall on the night, though he did go 4-7 from long range. He's in a bad shooting slump, and now is shooting just 40.7% on the season.
Walt Williams scored 10 points, Eddie Griffin came off the bench to score 9 points, grab 6 boards and a block while Kelvin Cato made all 3 shots he took (now near 52% from the field this season) for 6 points, but just 3 boards.
After Mobley turned the ball over top of the key, Malone scored on a fast break, putting the Jazz up 25-15. But Francis drained a three, then found Walt for a triple, and after John Crotty scored, Francis nailed another triple to make it 27-24 Jazz.
Angering play after that. Francis was trapped with two defenders on him, and Karl Malone was bumping him pretty good trying to get the ball. Francis went out of bounds and threw the ball hard at the Jazz, trying to get it off them out of bounds. The refs T'ed him up. Ridiculous.
They made the tech, but with the shot clock running down, Francis hit another bomb, this one a spectacular 30-foot prayer, and it was 28-27.
Francis had 16 points on 6-9 shooting in the period while Walt Williams was next with 6. John Stockton and KArl Malone combined for 16 points and 8 assists in the first.
The second quarter was a three-point bonanza.
Eddie Griffin hit one to start the period, giving the Rockets a 30-28 edge, but Scott Padgett hit a pair of triples to put Utah back ahead. When Francis hit yet another a little later, the Rockets trailed 34-33.
Cuttino Mobley then hit one to make it 39-38 Jazz, and when Moochie hit another (Rockets are now 9-13 from long range at this point), it was 41-41 with just over 5 minutes left in the half.
Francis then hit two free throws to tie, and with a little over 2 minutes left he burned DeShawn Stevenson for an 18-footer and the fans were stunned.... Francis was en fuego (23 points) and the Rockets were up 45-43.
Check that .... make it 47-43 after yet another Francis jumper. Err, another correction. 49-43 after two more Francis freebies.
Donyell Marshall closed the scoring of the half with a baby hook and at intermission, the Rockets led 49-45. Francis had 27 points on 9-13 shooting and 4-6 from long range. Dude just went nuts, putting on a clinic.
But then it happened.
Just a minute or two in to the third, Francis was top of the key with John Stockton guarding him. Stockton swiped at the ball, and must have gotten something of Steve... he threw the pass to a Rocket to his left, went right and threw his arm back in frustration, which clearly was not intended to land on anyone (as it wasn't even close).
Joey Crawford called a technical on Francis, immediately tossing him from the game.
UNBELIEVABLE. I was stunned. I couldn't believe it. It was a total crime. Francis got two technicals on the night, neither deserved, and the refs just decided to take out the guy who clearly was 90% of the firepower the Rockets had tonight. The league should review this infraction without question.... huge mark against Crawford.
I was so enraged by it I couldn't recap much of what happened afterwards... the Rockets hung tough, but in the final 6 minutes of the period, they could score just one point (can't imagine why). Through three: Utah 66, Houston 58.
Outside of Francis' 27, Walt had 10 and Mobley had 6. Karl Malone led the Jazz with 20 points, 6 boards and 5 assists while Stockton had 17 and 6 assists.
After Malone hit two free throws, Mobley hit a bucket then a triple and the Rockets were within 5. He had a chance to cut it to 3, but Mobley missed a pair of free throws.
Cat then hit another triple to bring the Rockets to within 69-66, but after that he took a bad three (guy right up on him), then committed a tough offensive foul, and the Jazz went the other way. Bryaon Russell scored underneath and it was 71-66 Jazz.
After a miss for each team, Mobley drained another three to make it 71-69 with just over 7 minutes to go.
With 5:52 to go, Griffin nailed a cold-blooded bomb and the Rockets were suddenly leading, 73-72.
Stockton missed a drive, then Moochie Norris took John Crotty to school, working him on a drive for a layin. After Karl Malone was called for an offensive foul, the Rocks found Cato underneath for a vicious slam and it was 77-72.
Griffin then totally rejected Andrei Kirilenko underneath and the Rockets got it, but Moochie went behind his back on the dribble and it went right to Padgett, who found Malone who was fouled on a drive. He made both FTs to make it 77-74.
Moochie then missed a jumper, and a mystery foul was called on Mobley on a Kirilenko drive. The Russian made 1 of 2 and the Rockets' lead was just 2 with 3:40 to go.
Mobley put up an errant three, then the Jazz got two tries to score and the second was a Malone jumper with 3:08 to go. Tie game, timeout Rockets.
Moochie missed a shot, and on the other end Stockton made a short jumper off a pick and with 2:22 to go, the Jazz led 79-77.
Mobley isolated against Russell and missed an 18-footer. After a Jazz miss, Griffin then bricked a 17-footer off the left wing. After Malone missed another shot, the Rockets called timeout with 52.4 seconds left. They just couldn't put the ball in the hole.
Mobley then hit a tough, fallaway 16-footer and the game was knotted up at 79 with just over 39 seconds left.
Malone was then fouled with 25 seconds left, going to the line. Malone made both (he has had 10 free throws in this quarter alone). 81-79 with 25.6 seconds left. Rudy calls another timeout to talk it over.
The Rockets ran an iso play for Mobley. He pulled up from 19-feet and was short. Kirilenko got the board and the Rockets fouled immediately. He made both and that was all she wrote.
The refs accomplished their goal.