MILWAUKEE – Gordon Hayward didn’t have the heft of reputation necessary to get the foul call in the final seconds of regulation Monday night against Milwaukee. That’s what it looked like to some, anyway, when the Utah Jazz’s third-year swingman drove to the rim, went up, created some measure of contact with Bucks forward Larry Sanders and had the ball knocked away.
Others wrote it off as a classic “swallowing the whistle” moment, the three referees making a conscious decision — contrary to everything the league claims and preaches — not to determine the outcome. The ball wound up in Enes Kanter‘s hands left of the basket, and his short baseline shot off one foot hit the rim and fell out into a scramble at the horn. Milwaukee won the overtime 10-9 on eight points by J.J. Redick and the clinching jumper by Monta Ellis.
In a sense, though, the Bucks won the game when Sanders took advantage of a break in the action to set up that Hayward play with the refs.
Previously in the fourth quarter, Sanders had greeted Kanter in front of the rim but his feet were planted in the restricted area. When the chest-to-chest contact came, he was called for the foul.
So, Sanders said he sought out veteran ref Dick Bavetta and his mates to get them all on the same page for Utah’s final possession of the fourth quarter.
“I asked them to make sure that was the rule – I didn’t leave my feet on the big guy [Kanter] and it was a foul,” Sanders said. “So, the next time I made sure I left my feet and went straight up. Once you’re straight up, you’re OK. I felt like I was on the same page with the referees at that point. As long as I didn’t swipe down.”
Sanders wound up with 16 rebounds and six blocks, including one of Paul Millsap in the final minute of overtime. He has logged at least one block in 40 consecutive games, which means he has a ways to go to match Elmore Smith‘s franchise mark of 61 straight back in 1975-76.
The NBA’s leader in blocks (3.23 per game), Sanders also will get heavy support for Most Improved Player — his 9.0 points and 9.0 rebounds nearly triple what he averaged last season.
“[Hayward] comes to the basket, Larry’s there. That’s what he’s done for us all year,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “In my NBA experience, I look at Larry and I see a little bit of Tyson Chandler. Because, when I was in Chicago, Tyson was very similar: able to make a big play at the end of a game, a big block, a big tip-in or something like that. Larry has a lot of the same qualities.”