- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

DENVER | A day late, the NBA blew the whistle on Dahntay Jones for tripping Kobe Bryant.

The league assessed Denver’s defensive specialist a flagrant-1 foul for sending the Lakers’ star sprawling through the lane with a trip late in the third quarter that Bennett Salvatore’s officiating crew missed.

Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson complained about Jones’ “unacceptable defense, tripping guys and playing unsportsmanlike basketball” during a rant about the officiating after Los Angeles fell 120-101 to Denver to tie the Western Conference finals at two games each.

Asked whether he felt Jones went out of his way to trip Bryant, Jackson replied: “Yes. It’s not the first time it’s happened in this series.”

On Tuesday, the NBA fined Jackson $25,000 for those comments. The Lakers organization was also fined $25,000.

Bryant kept things light when asked whether Jones tried to trip him.

“I just fell on my face for no reason,” he said. “I’m a klutz.”

Was Jones playing him dirty?

“Good defense,” Bryant said.

Bryant had beaten Jones cutting to the basket when Jones stuck out his right foot.

Jones called it an accident, an instinctive move that lacked any malice or even forethought.

“It wasn’t intentional,” said Jones, who was at a loss to explain his actions.

“I can’t. I was just playing basketball. We got tangled up.”

Nuggets coach George Karl went to the film room to watch the play after the game.

“It was a weird reaction by Dahntay,” Karl said. “I don’t think it was premeditated and not in any context other then he got off balance, Kobe backdoored him, he looked like he slipped a little bit and it looked like he kicked out.”

Jones had no explanation for extending his leg.

“Every movement that I have out there is not something I can explain. I’m just playing basketball, just reacting,” Jones said. “I think he cut, so I guess I was trying to get my upper body position back there, and we got tangled up.”

Karl felt relieved that the league didn’t suspend his top defender for Game 5 on Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

“I’m glad it just was a flagrant and no suspension,” Karl said. “I don’t think this series is anything but a pretty even, NBA playoff series. They’re not liking us, we’re not liking them and it’s not getting any kinder. It’s going to be harder, tougher and meaner.”

Karl said the league is toeing a thin line, however, by imposing a foul that wasn’t whistled in the game.

“I don’t think the precedent is good. If Bennett Salvatore saw that play would he have called a flagrant? I think he would have called a foul, but I don’t think he would have called a flagrant,” Karl said. “I think the mood of the game is being overridden by the mood of the office. I’m not sure that’s the right precedent.”

Jackson is the second coach to call Jones dirty during the playoffs, joining Byron Scott of the Hornets, who said the same thing in the first round, when Jones relentlessly hounded Chris Paul.

“I wouldn’t expect them to call me the greatest player in the world,” Jones retorted.

The Nuggets’ defense-first philosophy and physical style of play has produced plenty of critics, including Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and his team’s fans, who filled the arena with chants of “Den-ver Thug-gets!” during the semifinals.

“Everybody knows how we use him,” Karl said. “We sic him on the best perimeter guy. That’s his job. That’s his assignment. A Bruce Bowen mentality and he’s done a good job with it. He’s done well with it.”

And although Bryant is still scoring at a fantastic pace, the Nuggets are wearing him out, and Jones is playing a big part in that.

“If I was Kobe I wouldn’t want him to cover me,” Karl said. “He’s a pain. He’s a nag. He’s always bothering you.”

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