Unlike Sixers coach Larry Brown, who was unhappy with the way his star player was treated at the Delta Center a couple weeks ago, Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich wouldn't bite on an opportunity to vent on the officials.
"I can't comment on something I didn't see," Tomjanovich said of the second technical — and automatic ejection — on guard Steve Francis. "And that's more economical, too. I've given out enough Christmas presents this year."
It's probably a good thing Tomjanovich didn't see the incident, which occurred in the third quarter of Thursday's 83-79 Jazz victory. Referee Joey Crawford apparently thought Francis threw an elbow at Utah's John Stockton, but replays showed not only that it wasn't much of an elbow, but that it didn't touch Stockton — a fact he later confirmed for teammates.
Francis' first technical wasn't much worse. Trapped on the sideline by Karl Malone and John Crotty, Francis tried to call a timeout, didn't get much reaction from the refs, jumped backward and out of bounds while throwing the ball at the defenders. Except that to the officials it looked like an act of frustration and aggression, so they hit him with a technical.
The sad thing, for everyone except the Jazz, is that Francis' ejection seemed to turn an exciting game into a plodding, unemotional affair. In his 23 minutes of court time, Francis had scored 27 points, knocking down jumpers from everywhere, including four from behind the three-point line.
He was feeling it, and he knew it.
"You don't really get into that zone too much," he said. "Unfortunately, mine was cut short."
Francis said the Jazz can count themselves lucky he got tossed.
"They just got saved," he said.
The Jazz probably wouldn't agree with that sentiment, but they couldn't help noticing that Francis was making their defensive game plan — make him shoot jumpers instead of drive — look ill-chosen.
"He was rolling," said Stockton. "You like to make him beat you from out there. The problem was, he was."
Neither Stockton nor Francis was sure why he received the second technical.
"I didn't see what happened," Stockton said. "I heard the whistle blow and . . . whatever."
"Honestly, I don't even remember (what I did)," Francis said. "It was the same motion I do all the time. I wasn't conscious that it was that severe. But hey, that's the way they saw it, and that's the way it's gonna be."
The first technical was also iffy.
"It was kind of strange," Crotty said. "I don't know what he was trying to do."
Francis, who like Allen Iverson has yet to win in Salt Lake in his career, said he was trapped and just trying to escape.
"If they feel I was trying to intentionally hurt somebody, I have to live with it," he said. "I didn't hear the whistle."