Atlanta Hawks swingman Dahntay Jones outspokenly defended himself against criticism from Kobe Bryant, claiming that he did not intentionally attempt to injure the Los Angeles Lakers superstar in the final seconds of Wednesday night's game.
Bryant suffered a severely sprained left ankle when he landed awkwardly after taking a potential game-tying jump shot with 3.9 seconds remaining. He appeared to land on the foot of Jones, who was defending him closely on the play, and rolled the ankle before crumpling to the floor in pain.
Following the Lakers' 96-92 loss, Bryant said referees need to do a better job protecting shooters from defenders who go underneath them while shooting.
"As defensive players, you can contest shots, but you can't walk underneath players," Bryant said. "That's dangerous for the shooter."
Bryant later tweeted: "#dangerousplay that should have been called. Period."
Jones reacted to Bryant's barbs Thursday during an interview with "SportsCenter," saying that he was simply defending the shot and trying to help the struggling Hawks pick up a much-needed win.
"I didn't try to intentionally come up under him," Jones said. "I was trying to play as hard as I could, to compete at a high level, to try to to help my team win and try to contest the jump shot.
"I didn't want to give up on the play. I take pride in how hard I compete and not give up on plays, and that's all I was trying to do. It would be very hard for me in a nine-second span to be able to play defense and gauge where I could get my foot up under his as I'm looking at the ball and trying to contest the jump shot."
Regardless of whether Jones made a dirty play, the NBA acknowledged in a statement Thursday that officials should have called a foul on the play.
"After review at the league office, video replay confirmed that referees missed a foul call on Jones as he challenged Bryant's shot and did not give him the opportunity to land cleanly back on the floor," the league statement said. "Bryant should have been granted two free throws."
Bryant would not speculate whether he would play Friday against the Pacers. He left Philips Arena on Wednesday walking with a limp but without the aid of crutches.
A team source told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne that Bryant's chances of playing against Indiana are "not good."
Losing Bryant, the NBA's second-leading scorer, for an extended period would be costly for the Lakers (34-32), who own a half-game lead over the Utah Jazz for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Bryant's frustration over the play and his injury was palpable Thursday when he tweeted, "17yrs. Countless fades. This has happened TWICE. Jalen and Now Ankle still very swollen. Treatment all day."
Bryant's Jalen reference goes all the way back to Game 2 of the 2000 NBA Finals when he played just seven minutes after landing on then-Indiana Pacers guard and current ESPN NBA analyst Jalen Rose's foot.
"He Jalen Rose'd me," Bryant said of Jones on Wednesday night.
Rose has admitted trying to slide under Bryant in that game.
Jones said that he's not even certain Bryant landed on his foot, asserting instead that the 15-time All-Star appeared to roll his ankle on the floor.
"Right after the game, I went to go check the videos because I felt bad because I heard what everybody was saying," Jones said. "I wanted to make sure that he didn't come down on my foot.
"One take looks like it could have been the back of my foot, another take looks like it was the floor. But I didn't feel anything come down on me."
Bryant has a history with Jones, who was called for a flagrant foul for tripping Bryant in Game 4 of the 2009 Western Conference finals when he played for the Denver Nuggets.
Jones acknowledged tripping Bryant in that game, claiming that it was a retaliatory play as a result of a physical series.
"The trip came as a result of me losing my cool," Jones said. "I had been guarding him that whole series, and tempers had gotten flared and I had received a couple elbows to the face and to the throat that I felt like I wasn't getting my fair share of calls. On the last elbow, I just kind of lost it a little bit. I lost my cool and I retaliated with a play that I thought I was getting back.
"I got a fine and I got a flagrant 1 called on me, and it was well deserved. I knew I was wrong, I wish I could have taken it back but I couldn't and I moved on from it."
The recent play has been the talk of the league.
"It's not a clean play. It's a dirty play," said Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson, who was a teammate of Rose, on ESPN Radio's "The Herd" on Thursday. "I'm not sure if Dahntay Jones did it intentionally. But he certainly did go under Kobe and didn't allow him room to land, which is rule No. 1.
"So it's a tough play and hopefully Kobe will be back sooner and won't have to miss much time."
Hawks coach Larry Drew completely disagreed with Jackson's assessment of the play.
"I would not call that a dirty play," Drew said during an interview with ESPN Radio's "Coach and Company" on Thursday. "It's just a play that unfortunately Kobe comes down on Dahntay's foot. Officials have to make what they feel is the right call in that particular case, and obviously they didn't feel that a foul was committed.
"But I totally disagree with Mark Jackson, and anyone who would call that a dirty play. We're not out to hurt anybody."
A reporter asked Bryant after Wednesday's game if he felt like Jones deliberately tried to injure him.
"I don't ever want to put that on somebody, I really don't," Bryant said. "I just think players need to be made conscious of it and I think officials need to protect shooters. Period."
Jones maintained, however, that he was playing tough defense and that he didn't want to give Bryant a clean look at the basket.
"My job as a defender is to get as close as possible so they have to see you," Jones said. "When he fades away, I'm not supposed to just give up and let him hit the shot that he wants. So I just tried to get closer and not give up on the play and let him know that I was still there.
"Coming up under him -- there's a fine line between that. I didn't maliciously try to come up under his foot. I think his leg kicked out and it made contact with me and it made him land awkwardly."
Deliberate or not, Bryant was upset that Wednesday likely was the Lakers' final game against the Hawks this season.
"I can't get my mind past the fact that I got to wait a year to get revenge," he said.Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne and Dave McMenamin and The Associated Press was used in this report.