The Chicago Bulls pushed the Denver Nuggets to the limit but couldn’t quite get the job done after referees (not incorrectly) ruled a Joakim Noah tip-in with 1.7 seconds left to be offensive interference. The Bulls would force a Denver turnover, but couldn’t get a shot off in time to make the difference, giving the Nuggets the 119-118 win.
There’s a lot going on here, so let’s break down the final play. First, the Bulls nearly turned it over on their initial inbound attempt, resulting in the subsequent inbound taking place in the backcourt, which made everything harder. Then, upon inbounding the ball, Marco Belinelli decided he should force up an off-balance, contested jumper from the baseline, which he missed, badly. So badly, in fact, that Joakim Noah felt he should tip the ball up and in before it even hit the rim. Here’s where the controversy comes in.
See, according to the rulebook, Noah committed a violation. Rule 11, section 1-A, sub-section G of the NBA rulebook states a player shall not “touch any live ball from within the playing area that is on its downward flight with an opportunity to touch the basket ring. This is considered to be a ‘field goal attempt’ or trying for a goal.” Having said that, the play was apparently not called offensive interference initially, based on a tweet from ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell.
Thibs said that Noah's play wasn't originally called goaltending. Only saw it on replay. That's why he's upset refs didn't call it before.
— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) March 19, 2013
Now, a few minutes earlier, the Nuggets scored on a tip from Kosta Koufos. Replays showed the ball to be on the rim as he touched it, but it was ruled good and couldn’t be reviewed, by rule. And yet, in a very similar circumstance with the Bulls, the play was reviewed and overturned. Let’s just say Tom Thibodeau didn’t take it very well.
Again, looking at the replay, the refs made the correct call according to the rule after review. But the review was not applied to both plays evenly, and it’s not clear why. If Noah’s tip was ruled a good basket, there shouldn’t have been any basis to review it, and yet here we are. It’s confusing.
After the game, reporters spoke to referee Ken Mauer about the call(s). His answer was…less than helpful.
Official Ken Mauer: "If we deem the ball in its descent has a chance to score, it's either offensive basket interference or goaltending."
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 19, 2013
Again, no answer about the relative review. Hopefully we’ll get something at some point, but don’t hold your breath.
Anyway, the Bulls struggled in large part because Wilson Chandler exploded for 35 points for Denver. Nate Robinson countered with 34 for the Bulls, including the game-tying three to send it into overtime, but it wasn’t quite enough. All six players to play more than 4 minutes — Noah, Belinelli, Robinson, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Jimmy Butler — scored at least 14 points, but Denver’s balanced scoring proved too much.
Overall, it’s hard to get too mad about this. The Bulls should probably have won, but Denver is a really good team and it was great to see the Bulls fight to stay in it. This was one of the most entertaining Bulls games this year, and even though it’s hard to look past the ending, this was still encouraging.
The Bulls will spend the next two days regrouping and trying to get healthy before taking on the Portland Trailblazers on Thursday.