Utah held a three-point lead with 10 seconds to play in regulation when the Sixers, very curiously considering time and score, entered a post pass to Joel Embiid, who saved a go-nowhere possession, and the game for Philly, by quickly retreating to the 3-point line for this pump-fake beauty:
Tobias Harris then took control with 11 points in OT, where Donovan Mitchell, who finished with 33 points, was bottled up by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Ben Simmons. Mitchell was frustrated all night, needing 34 shots to get his 33 points, and when he was called for this offensive foul with under a minute remaining in OT, he hit a boiling point and wound up tossed from the game.
Afterward, Mitchell did not hold back in asserting the Jazz have been on the wrong side of an officiating bias all season.
Donovan Mitchell: "I'm never ever one to blame the refereeing, but this is getting out of hand. … We continually get screwed. We won this game in my opinion. … It's getting fucking ridiculous. I'm sick of it. … It eats at me. It's really getting out of hand."— Eric Walden (@tribjazz) March 4, 2021
If you're part of the "it's not what you say but how you say it" crowd, here's part of Mitchell's clearly-hot rant:
Evaluating the officiating in a particular game based on free-throw disparities can be a flawed approach. The team that is stronger inside, more aggressive going to the basket and is more often winning one-on-one matchups, tends to get more whistles. Teams whining about not getting as many calls typically didn't earn as many by gaining consistent leverage.
With that caveat, for what it's worth, the Sixers shot almost twice as many free throws as Utah on Wednesday (35-19). But that's not a theme, at least statistically, that holds water over the course or the season. In fact, Utah's opponents are only getting sent to the free-throw line 19.4 times per game, the sixth-lowest number in the league, while Utah shoots 21.9 free throws per game -- and that's with a very 3-point heavy attack. Advantage, Jazz.
To be fair, if you want to attribute some of those low traditional opponent-free-throw totals to Utah's relatively slow pace (under 100 possessions per game), consider that Utah's opponents also sport the fourth-lowest free throw rate in the league, making just 16.1 free throws per 100 possessions, while Utah makes 19.1 per 100.
Also, the Sixers parading to the free-throw line on Wednesday isn't some kind of outlier. They lead the league in free-throw attempts with 27.3 per game as a team, and Embiid leads all players with 11.6 per night.
You can say this should've, or at least could've been an offensive foul on Embiid for bulldozing Rudy Gobert, or you could say that's what the strong, more aggressive player looks like and free-throw attempts, over the long haul, tend to reflect this kind of aggression.
If Mitchell does have a legit gripe with the officials, perhaps it stems from him or his teammates not getting calls in big moments. The Jazz take under two "clutch" free throws per game (within five points with under five minutes to play), ranking dead last, and Mitchell has taken just nine clutch free throws all season, per Inpredictable, which defines "clutch" free throws as those which have an "elevated impact on win probability" -- the latter of which ranks 40th in the league, and no other Utah player is in the top 50.
This data, however, comes with its own caveat, which is that the Jazz play the fewest clutch minutes in the league because they have a plus-8.8 point differential, the highest in the league. If you're almost always winning big enough to avoid clutch situations, you're not going to be racking up big clutch numbers.
Again, you can't entirely judge officiating on numbers, either way, and without watching every Jazz game and really evaluating the whistle they're getting, Mitchell's gripe can't be completely discounted. That said, statistics are not insignificant, certainly not over the long haul, and statistically speaking, it's hard to support the idea that the Jazz are "continually getting screwed" by the officials.