As Will Hardy was explaining the final play of the Utah Jazz’s loss to the Orlando Magic on Thursday night, he described a moment when there was a little confusion as the official handed the ball to Kelly Olynyk for an inbounds play.
But Hardy stopped himself.
“I don’t want to lose any more money tonight talking about the officials,” Hardy said. “It was a tough play.”
Hardy had already been hit with a technical foul, which comes with a league-imposed fine, earlier in the night.
With just over a minute to play in the first half of the Jazz’s 115-113 loss, Lauri Markkanen got tangled underneath the Jazz’s basket after fighting for a rebound. When he went up for the putback attempt, Wendell Carter Jr. had his hand on the top of the ball and in the midst of the tangle, Markkanen was knocked off balance and went crashing down to the court.
The sound of Markkanen hitting the court on his tailbone and lower back could be heard throughout the arena. As Markkanen immediately grabbed for his lower back and writhed on the floor, Hardy charged onto the court, screaming at the officials who had decided there wasn’t anything that warranted a foul call.
As play continued on the Magic’s side of the floor, leaving Markkanen by himself in the backcourt, Hardy continued to follow the officials, red-faced and yelling expletives.
Whether Markkanen was fouled or the officials got it right was not on Hardy’s mind; in fact, after seeing a replay, Hardy said himself that Carter’s hand was squarely on the ball. But in the moment, what Hardy saw was his best player in a heap on the court, in pain, and he wasn’t going to let that slide without some fight.
“Part of my job is to fight for our players,” Hardy said. “And when our best player gets drilled to the floor, I have no problem losing my mind. That’s part of my responsibility.”
Markkanen was completely unaware of Hardy’s actions or the technical foul that Hardy received until it was mentioned by reporters in a postgame interview. As the scene was described, Markkanen swelled with pride.
“Whoa, that’s awesome,” he said. “He has his players’ backs and you love to see it. We’ve just got to do a better job for him.”