Game Recap: Nuggets 119, Bulls 118

It’s too bad they don’t have a “Moral Victory” column in the NBA standings.

The shorthanded-as-always Bulls — who were once again without Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Rip Hamilton and Taj Gibson — were faced with a daunting task:

Slow down the Denver Nuggets, the league’s second hottest team, winners of 11 straight games.

The Bulls ended up having one of their best offensive outputs in a while: 49 percent shooting, 12 offensive rebounds, 19 second-chance points, 50 points in the paint, and a scoring rate of 115.5 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference).

Unfortunately, that whole “slow down the Denver Nuggets” thing never quite happened.

Offensively speaking, Denver did everything a little bit better: 20 offensive rebounds, 20 second-chance points, 30 fast break points, 68 points in the paint, and a scoring rate of 116.5 points per 100 possessions.

That’s right, folks. It was “Defense Optional Night” in the United Center.

Chicago’s D shouldn’t have been caught this off guard. After all, the Nuggets are a run-and-gun team that entered the game ranked first in fast break points, points in the paint and second-chance points. They love to crash the boards and attack the rim. Which is what they did. Over and over again.

According to Hoopdata, the Nuggets attempted an astounding 54 shots at the rim. They connected on 34 of them…which is nearly as many as the Bulls attempted. Denver’s offensive rebounding rate was an equally amazing 40 percent.

Normally, I would assume Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was irate over his team’s defensive effort. But in this case, Thibs was irate about something else entirely.

The Bulls kept finding themselves down by double-digits, but they fought their way back thanks to spectacular performances by Joakim Noah (14 points, 7-for-10, 12 rebounds, 7 blocked shots, 6 assists) and Nate Robinson (34 points, 7 assists, 6 three-pointers, including the three that forced overtime).

In the NBA, when a home team erases a huge deficit and forces OT, there’s a feeling of destiny. It just feels like they should win. And it sure felt that way after Robinson nailed a 22-footer to put the Bulls up 115-114 with just over a minute left in the extra session.

Then several things went wrong.

After Robinson’s shot, Denver came back and got yet another layup attempt from Ty Lawson. That attempt missed, but Kosta Koufos tipped the ball in to put the Nuggets up 116-115 with 46.4 seconds left.

One problem: The ball was still on the rim when Koufos touched it. Which is goaltending. But because the officials missed the call, they couldn’t review the play.

As ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell put it: “The officials let the play go and did not review it, despite a new NBA rule addendum that allows officials to review a play in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter and any play in overtime. The key is that a violation must be called on the floor in order for officials to be able to review it on courtside monitors.”

This would come back to haunt the Bulls.

But before that, Chicago managed to reclaim the lead thanks to a layup by Noah and a free throw by Robinson. The Bulls were now ahead 118-116 with 16 seconds left. They were 16 seconds of defense away from an improbable win.

Of course, they didn’t get it.

Andre Miller drove deep into the paint only to find himself sandwiched between Noah and Jimmy Butler. Some crazy spinning and pivoting ensued — during which it sure look liked he traveled — before Miller shoveled the ball to a wide open Andre Iguodala. Noah managed to challenge the shot, but Iggy nailed a triple and now the Bulls were down by a point with seven seconds to go.

After a timeout, the Bulls inbounded the ball to Marco Belinelli, who drove to the baseline and lofted a jumper that a leaping Noah touched on its way down.

Unlike the Koufos play, the officials called this one, and they were therefore able to review it. Which meant the shot wouldn’t count. And it didn’t.

As referee Ken Mauer explained: “If we deem the ball in its descent has a chance to score, and therefore it’s in the cylinder, it’s either offensive basket interference or it’s goaltending, that’s it.”

For their part, the Bulls players and coaching staff believed the official initially allowed the basket and only changed their mind after the Nuggets called timeout and demanded a review.

Said Noah: “They called it good, they called basket.”

Thibodeau absolutely erupted. I’ve never seen the guy that angry.

After the game, Thibs said: “I don’t understand it. I don’t understand it one bit. Koufos’ play, I asked why it wasn’t reviewed. … Clearly it was on the rim, and they told me that because they didn’t make the call, they couldn’t review it. If that is the rule, then that is the rule. I thought we had the video stuff to make sure we got it right. Then down on the other end, they are tough calls on bang-bang plays, but I don’t understand why one is reviewable and the other one isn’t. After watching the replay, and I watched it when it occurred, they never made the call on that either.

“It’s a tough play. From my angle, it looked like it was a good play, it looked like the ball was short. Koufos’ [play], I know, was on the rim, and to me I guess we have to call the league and get an interpretation. Maybe I don’t understand the rule correctly.”

The rest of the Bulls were as upset as their coach.

Said Carlos Boozer: “We felt like we got it stolen from us.”

Added Noah: “Very disappointing. I feel like you play this game so hard and maybe I just don’t understand the rules or something, but I just don’t understand how you can review my tip-in but two plays before that you can’t review the other one. There’s got to be consistency in when you can review [a play]. It’s just frustrating how things like that can happen. I know that the refs are doing the best that they can in those situations, but it cost us the game today, so it’s disappointing.”

I agree that this was a rough way to end a game. But in the final analysis, it was one play. What about all those layups the Nuggets had? Or their 12 dunks? The 20 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points? The 30 fast break points?

The reality is, has the Bulls done a better job protecting the rim, taking care of their defensive glass or getting back in transition, nobody would be talking about a missed call.

It’s a shame that such a great effort wasn’t rewarded. But the Bulls are a team that has to do all the little things to win. Last night, they didn’t do all the little things. And it cost them.

Extras:
Recap, Box Score, Advanced B ox Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.

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8 Responses to Game Recap: Nuggets 119, Bulls 118

  1. mrfreez33@yahoo.com'
    MrFrEEz33 March 19, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    Actually it was 3 plays. The Koufos no-call on the offensive interference, Andre Miller shuffling his feet before dishing to Igoudala for the 3 and, of course, the Noah tip-in called for interference when the replays show the ball was OUTSIDE of the cylinder. I know that the league grades the refs after every game. This game the refs should get a D-. Way too inconsistent.

  2. Mark March 19, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    “Unlike the Koufos play, the officials called this one, and they were therefore able to review it. Which meant the shot wouldn’t count. And it didn’t.”

    At what point in this article is it clarified that the refs waived it off initially? Because the quote taken was from a post-game interview and has nothing to do with what they called initially, which was a good basket. He was speaking on the decision made during review, which should not have happened per the Koufos play reasoning.

  3. Mark March 19, 2013 at 10:10 am #

    And I don’t see how Noah’s play is any different than a player dunking an alley-oop that is on its way down toward the basket…balls are thrown at the hoop (pass or shot) that are on the way down that have a chance at hitting the rim or scoring all the time, and offensive players make a play on them … players have accidentally thrown an alley-oop and its gone in the hoop … so those “have a chance to score” but a ref would never waive off an alley-oop. …. and no, having a chance to score doesn’t mean its in the cylinder Mauer … those are two separate issues … stop trying to cover for a screw-up.

  4. rohnerb@yahoo.com'
    Bill March 19, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    I think I agree with both points Mark is making:

    1. If a call (wave off) has to be made for the play to be reviewable, then I’m not sure this one was reviewable. Where is the support for saying they waved it off initially?

    2. If the standard for goal tending is “in the cylinder” or “has a chance to go in,” then Noah’s play wasn’t goal tending, because the shot was well short. If the rule is that if the descending ball *might* touch the rim, then the player has to let it touch the rim, that’s a very stupid rule.

  5. sarutkow@gmail.com'
    scott r March 19, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    One can say that the Bulls should of done a better job on defense and they would of won the game. One can also say that the refs blew some calls. 2 way street.

  6. Mark March 19, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    Yeah, Iggy made a timely shot… And I can’t remember a player running through the lane and gashing the Bulls dunk after dunk like Wilson Chandler did … but that 2-way street should be for Bulls and Nuggets … yes the Bulls shouldn’t let the refs decide the game, but that doesn’t mean the refs get a lane … I know they can’t do much now and they have to get over it … the bulls still got screwed though.

  7. bullsbythehorns@gmail.com'
    Matt McHale March 20, 2013 at 7:35 am #

    Mark said: “And I don’t see how Noah’s play is any different than a player dunking an alley-oop that is on its way down toward the basket…balls are thrown at the hoop (pass or shot) that are on the way down that have a chance at hitting the rim or scoring all the time, and offensive players make a play on them … players have accidentally thrown an alley-oop and its gone in the hoop … so those “have a chance to score” but a ref would never waive off an alley-oop. …. and no, having a chance to score doesn’t mean its in the cylinder Mauer … those are two separate issues … stop trying to cover for a screw-up.”

    I agree. In many cases, it’s simply a judgement calls by the officials. Frustrating as hell when it doesn’t go your team’s way.

    scott r said: “One can say that the Bulls should of done a better job on defense and they would of won the game. One can also say that the refs blew some calls. 2 way street.”

    I hear what you’re saying. But I was focusing on things the Bulls can actually control. Officiating is something nobody can control Apparently, not even the officials.

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