Upon further review: Nuggets 90, Bulls 89

Well, you can go ahead and file this one under “Almosts,” “Heart-Breakers,” or “What-Ifs.” Take your pick.

Last night’s loss to the Denver Nuggets might very well qualify as one of the closest one-point defeats in NBA history. With the score knotted at 89-all, Kirk Hinrich fouled Chauncey Billups as the Nuggets guard was driving to the basket. There were six-tenths of a second left in the game. Billups calmly sank the first free throw and then intentionally missed the second so time would expire. However, Joakim Noah grabbed the rebound and called timeout with three-tenths of a second on the clock, leaving the door open for a catch-and-shoot situation. There was still a chance.

A pretty solid chance, as it turned out. Hinrich inbounded the ball to Brad Miller, who caught it at the top of the key and, in one motion, spun around and released…good! Bulls win! Bulls win!

Thanks to a good friend, I got to watch the game from the luxury of a Harris Bank skybox suite, so I was one of the 21,409 spectators who exploded out of their seats in wild celebration. There were hugs and high-fives all around. It was one of those great “remember when…” moments that are best experienced live. However, I knew there would be an official review, and it was going to be close.

There was a giant flat screen TV in the suite. That TV was tuned into the game on WGN, which was showing a frame-by-frame replay of the shot from every possible angle. I figured that, if this was the professional football, the Bulls would have been in good shape, because NFL referees require indisputable evidence to overturn the initial call (which, in this case, was that Miller canned the shot before the final buzzer). And, really, it was nearly impossible to tell from replays whether the ball was still touching his fingertips when the buzzer sounded.

Apparently, NBA officials don’t need 100 percent conclusive video evidence to overturn a call. Good to know. After about 10 minutes — which seemed like an eternity to many of the people still lingering around the United Center waiting for closure – the refs concluded that Miller’s shot didn’t count…at which point my friend almost made hot dogs rain down on them from the skybox. I was ready to help.

I guess the Bulls will have to regard this missed opportunity as a moral victory. After all, their defense — which has been surprisingly stout this season — held the Nuggets to only 90 points on 41 percent shooting. And Carmelo Anthony — the league’s third-leading scorer at 30.0 PPG — finished with a season-low 20 points on 8-for-22 from the field. You could even say that ‘Melo was outplayed by Luol Deng, who had 21 points (8-for-13), 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocked shots. Of course, Anthony knocked down some key fourth-quarter buckets, including a clutch 14-footer with 13 seconds left to put Denver up 89-87. As the saying goes, you can’t stop the great ones, you can only hope to contain them.

Not so close, Kirk:
On Denver’s final play, Hinrich crowded Billups, who only had a few seconds to drive or shoot. Kirk obviously expected Billups to shoot, so he got right in Chauncey’s mug. As it turned out, he was too close, and Billups was able to walk right around him. Instead of trusting his help defense (Noah appeared to be rotating), Hinrich hacked Billups across the arms. I know Chauncey is known in some circles as “Mr. Big Shot,” but I think his reputation as an end-of-game assassin is somewhat overblown. It might have been better to force Billups into a contested 20-footer than sending him to the line, where he’s nearly automatic under pressure.

Four Factors:
The Bulls had a slight edge in Effective Field Goal Percentage (45.9 to 44.6) while the Nuggets had a slight edge in Offensive Rebounding Percentage (34.0 to 32.6), but overall those two categories were a bit of a wash. Denver won Free Throw Rate (22.6 to 14.9) and was +6 points on foul shots. Chicago won Turnover Percentage (13.9 to 19.3) but didn’t capitalize enough on their opportunities. The Bulls gave up 12 points on 13 turnovers, whereas the Nuggets surrendered only 16 points on 18 turnovers. Chicago was only +4 points in that area. One more score off of Denver’s miscues could have swung the game.

Here we “Jo” again:
Joakim Noah’s hot start continued last night. Coming off a new career-high in scoring, Noah grabbed a career-best 21 rebounds to go along with 12 points (6-for-12), 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. Oddly, he was the only Bulls starter to finish with a negative plus-minus score (-1). And, as Henry Abbott pointed out yesterday on TrueHoop, Noah’s plus-minus numbers this season aren’t pretty. I’m not really sure what to make of this. I mean, he’s playing great, and his contributions — the offensive rebounding in particular — have appeared to swing games in Chicago’s favor.

Three-point apocalypse:
Chicago’s struggles from beyond the arc continued last night as they missed 14 of their 18 long-range attempts. Luol Deng was 1-for-1, John Salmons 3-for-7, Hinrich 0-for-5, Jannero Pargo 0-for-2, Miller 0-for-2 and James Johnson 0-for-1. Predictably, with the Bulls firing blank from distance, the Nuggets clogged the lane to cut off Derrick Rose’s penetration. Fortunately, Rose has really developed that little pull-up shot from midrange. Derrick only got two layup attempts (both of which he hit), but he went 9-for-16 on his jumpers. And he hit them from all over the floor, which is a great sign. But his game won’t blossom the way it should until the team can open some lanes by knocking down shots and forcing opposing defenses to stay honest.

Speaking of Rose, he finished with a game-high 22 points, 5 assists and 2 blocks. He also tied the game on a layup with 33 seconds left, and then he tied the game again with 10 seconds left after drawing a foul on Billups and coolly knocking down two free throws.

No laughing matter:
When Miller hit his game-winner that wasn’t really a game-winner, the Bulls started celebrating like a bunch of half-crazed teenagers. This amused Chauncey Billups: “As soon as I saw the flight of the ball, I knew it was good. Then, I was sitting and laughing. Not so much about the shot, but looking at their reaction. They were dancing and jumping around like they had just made the Sweet 16.”

It was classic Billups. He used to make those types of subtle digs when he was with the Pistons. Whenever Chicago beat his team back then, Billups (and other Detroit players) were quick to point out that a single win meant more the Bulls than it did to the Pistons, whose sole goal was winning a championship. Well, veteran poise is nice and everything, but personally, I want a team to be passionate about winning every game, every night. If that means they freak out a little bit after a buzzer-beater, so be it.

D-Fense:
The Bulls are playing it this season. Seriously. According to John Hollinger’s team stats page, Chicago currently ranks 8th in Defensive Efficiency. They are giving up 98.0 Points Per 100 Possessions. It’s like the Scott Skiles Era all over again! Speaking of which, his Milwaukee Bucks currently lead the league in Defensive Efficiency (89.6 Points Per 100 Possessions).

Still slumping:
Salmons finished with 11 points on 3-for-13 shooting. He did contribute in other areas (5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks and a steal), but his shooting slump is really hurting the team, particularly in terms of stretching the opposing defense. Because I’m obsessively preoccupied with Salmons’ slump, I watched him shoot around right before the start of the third quarter. He went 2-for-13 from three-point range — a pretty dismal performance for practice shots — before slowly shuffling toward the bench. From my vantage point, he looked either disappointed or disgusted with himself. Maybe both.

His practice form was terrible. Salmons was both sliding forward and falling back at the same time, which is pretty much what he does during games. I couldn’t help but juxtapose John’s form with Hinrich’s. Kirk was balanced, lined up, and straight as a pin on every shot. I mean, his form was textbook. I honestly can’t remember if Salmons’ form was always this bad or whether it’s devolved from lack of confidence. Maybe he needs a shooting doctor.

TrueHoop Network:
Jeremy from Roundball Mining Company: “I can certainly understand why Bulls fans are upset. In my opinion if there is enough evidence to overturn the call, it should have been apparent quickly. However, as J.A. Adande pointed out, who cares how long it takes as long as they get the call right. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the decision, you have to give the NBA credit for doing everything they can to get these calls correct.”

Extras:
Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.

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20 Responses to Upon further review: Nuggets 90, Bulls 89

  1. rbittmann@gmail.com'
    Russell November 11, 2009 at 2:37 pm #

    Joakim Noah plays almost the entire game and the Bulls lose by one. Joakim Noah has a plus/minus of -1. Makes sense to me. Can we take the crown off this stat?

  2. cmason32@gmail.com'
    patagonia November 11, 2009 at 2:43 pm #

    The NBA rulebook says that refs only have two minutes to review a play. They definitely took longer than that. The rulebook also states that the evidence must be “clear and conclusive” to overturn a call. It most definitely was not.

  3. tc643@hotmail.com'
    Tony C. November 11, 2009 at 3:02 pm #

    You are absolutely correct about the poor defensive decision on the final (defensive) play. It obviously would have been far preferable to give up any kind of outside shot rather than allowing penetration and a foul. Really stupid.

    And speaking of stupid, hold on to your hat. If I’m not mistaken, Neil Funk and Stacy King are both well-paid professionals who have been around basketball for most (if not all) of their adult lives. And yet last night, during the broadcast, on the play in which Rose got back to block Billups’ shot, they replayed the block AT LEAST four times, raved about Rose’s “vert”, and essentially dismissed Billups’ objection without giving it the slightest thought.

    Well, it was PAINFULLY obvious on replay that the block was actually A GOALTEND! Just to be absolutely certain, I checked the rule book, and sure enough:

    Section I-A Player Shall Not:

    e. During a field goal attempt, touch a ball after it has touched the backboard below the ring level and while the ball is on its upward flight.

    That is exactly what happened on this play, and Billups was absolutely right to be pissed. It really boggles the mind that neither one of the “expert” professionals on the Bulls’ broadcast team were capable of noticing and/or properly interpreting what had transpired.

    Sheesh.

  4. usmcroc22@msn.com'
    rocky November 11, 2009 at 3:12 pm #

    The big stat of the game is fouls. Denver got every foul call. The refs called every ticky tack foul on the bulls, while apparantly the bulls can just get mugged inside. The refs turned a blind eye on an obvious trip by Carmelo Anthony against Luol Deng late in the fourth qaurter that gave denver the ball back and they scored. If the refs would have called this game fairly for both sides then the bulls would of won this one easily and I just don’t see how they could take that game winner away. He got it off before the buzzer and there was no evidence to show definitive proof.

  5. philipbaer@gmail.com'
    Dingo November 11, 2009 at 4:19 pm #

    I thought Salmons blocked (slight tip) Billups shot on the way up before it hit the backboard and the Rose blocked it off the backboard. Salmons should have gotten credit then for the block..

    Had Salmons not tipped it I would say it was goal tending. Either way it was close but that’s just what I saw. I can’t find a replay of it this morning so going off what I remember yesterday.

    Still a pretty darn good game, except the result.

  6. brianavers@gmail.com'
    Varese November 11, 2009 at 4:39 pm #

    Matt, I’m a new reader and I love the column, you do a great job. But when you say “I don’t know what to make of [Noah's plus/minus numbers]“, I have to raise an eyebrow.

    The plus/minus has its heart in the right place, but it’s a ridiculous statistic. Every NBA box score bears this out. All the b-ball pundits I know and love disregard the stat.

    Trust your instincts, you obviously understand basketball. Look into plus/minus, draw your own conclusions, and hopefully you will toss it in the can as many others have done – in my opinion, your inclusion of that stat is the one consistent hiccup in your blog.

    Go Bulls – and thanks again for your great work.

  7. mags915@live.com'
    mags November 11, 2009 at 4:42 pm #

    hey tony C. I can see where your coming from except that john salmons touched it on the way up so it was a live ball once salmons touched it. Why dont you complain about how they dont call fouls on Carmelo Anthony when he clearly tripped Luol Deng?? The ref was right in front of him and he doesnt make the call. Nuggets got away with one but thats to be expected when your team has one of the poster boys of the nba. oh and by the way by rule the refs have to make the call within 2 minutes or they have to leave it as is. so the bulls by rule should have won that game.

  8. LL-Smokes-Jays November 11, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

    That was the biggest bs I’ve ever seen in proffessional sports.

  9. bscholtens@hotmail.com'
    Brad S. November 11, 2009 at 4:56 pm #

    On the Joakim plus/minus stat: I am just guessing here, but I would think that number is getting influenced by the poor shooting of his teammates. When BM is in the game (or Tyrus for that matter), there seemsto be more of an effort to include the big men in offensive sets, whether passing or shooting. When Joakim is in the game it’s to rebound, get his points from those rebounds, and then get back on defense.

    Well, if the other guys are taking all the shots and MISSING, then it would logically follow that the plus/minus stat while he is in the game is negatively affected.

  10. tc643@hotmail.com'
    Tony C. November 11, 2009 at 5:25 pm #

    I actually though, having been subjected to several replays, that Salmons did not tip Billups’ shot. I could be wrong, but that was my interpretation.

  11. tc643@hotmail.com'
    Tony C. November 11, 2009 at 8:20 pm #

    Just watched it a few more times, and still don’t thing that Salmons touched the ball. Watch the trajectory of the ball itself, as it does not appear to be altered.

    In any case, the announcers should have stressed the point that it if was not touched by Salmons, then it had to be a goal-tend.

    Here’s the link:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pzCJB3Itvw

  12. animefan8492@gmail.com'
    Kris November 11, 2009 at 8:38 pm #

    I was also at the game, but in the first section, right where the away team comes out, and that was just retarded. I’m just gonna throw away the end call, and bring up another thing: The entire game was so badly officiated with phantom fouls, imaginary travels, and make up fouls that it was hard to take it seriously. Albeit the bad officiating, the Bulls didn’t play very well anyway, but it would have been a completely different game had the referees possessed a pair of glasses or weren’t paid off, which the odds are in favor that they were.

    But would haves are would haves, and the game’s over with the Bulls getting the short end of the straw.

    Sigh.

  13. PTFC November 11, 2009 at 9:00 pm #

    Tony C,

    Salmons tipped it first which made it bounce of the glass (and was still going up) and Rose just made sure it didn’t go up enough and blocked it again.

    Also, I know there are “super star” calls and I’ve been watching basketball for many years so it’s not a surprise but did anyone see ESPN top 10 plays. Play number #3 was melo making a sick spin move to the middle of the paint and made the shot but they called a foul also. And I was just thinking to my self “NO ONE, touched him”. All because he made an acrobatic move and it looked difficult and he yelled (because of the heat of the moment and not because he was hit) does not make it a foul. Yea I know that just one play and it takes the entire 48 minutes to win or lose a game but it just dissappoints me when Noah and Miller plays such great defense and does EVERYTHING correct yet still get screwed. It’s like whats the point? Whats the point if the foul will be called anyways, if thats the case Noah and Miller could have just hacked him and he wouldn’t have gotten an “And 1″.

    rant done.

  14. Griese14bears@yahoo.com'
    Brandon November 11, 2009 at 10:09 pm #

    Tony C,

  15. Griese14bears@yahoo.com'
    Brandon November 11, 2009 at 10:12 pm #

    Tony C, if you have not realized that all comentary is biased in every sport, some are more vague than others. And if you would have listened to the Nuggets side they would have said that he was fouled on the ensuing play. FYI all comentary people who are not affiliated with a team like TNT, they dont even know what they are talking about half the time and i even hear them get names wrong with certain players. So dont get so literal on them, its a bunch of morons doing an easy job.

  16. the_chiu@hotmail.com'
    Truth November 11, 2009 at 11:37 pm #

    The rule book says that if .3 seconds are left on the clock, the team can only score off a tip. Brad Miller shot it therefore no basket. It sucks, buts its the rules

  17. granville waiters November 11, 2009 at 11:40 pm #

    neil funk is my hero

  18. bigrut8719@yahoo.com'
    rut November 12, 2009 at 2:48 am #

    Acutally Truth, this is the correct rule.

    from espn
    (George)Karl said the rule involves whether a player pivots when he catches the ball.

    “According to the rulebook that I know, if there’s any type of pivoting associated with the shot, you cannot get a shot off in three-tenths of a second,” Karl said. “It’s in their casebook of the referees. That’s why we missed the second shot. The rebound takes three-tenths of a second.

    “It’s very difficult to get a shot off in three-tenths of a second, unless you’re facing the basket and catching and shooting in same motion. Even though Miller just twisted a little, there was a kind of pivoting of his body that in general referees are told you can’t shoot the ball in three-tenths of a second.”

    (Tim)Frank said there is no description of the type of shot that can be taken when there is more than .2 on the clock.

    Reading from the NBA rulebook, Frank said: The only type of field goal which may be scored if the game clock is at .2 or .1 is a tip-in or high lob. The game clock must show 0.3 or more in order for a player to secure possession of the ball on a rebound or a throw-in to attempt a field goal.

    “There is no description of what could happen in any way,” Frank said. “You have the ability to catch and shoot with .3 or more. I’m not sure what Coach Karl was referring to.”

    Frank said he kept track of how long the review took. He said it took 4 1/2 minutes from the end of the game, and it was under three minutes of actual review.

  19. felipeagarcia87@hotmail.com'
    felipe garcia November 12, 2009 at 3:16 pm #

    As a Bulls fan, I am really starting to get worry about D-Rose. He is taking way to many jump-shots and doesn’t attack the rim as much like before when he won rookie of the year. The only way Rose is going to become an explosive guard is by him attacking the rim and drawing more contact like he did before. I don’t mind him taking 2 or 3 jump shots but, not for all of his shoots! (ATTACK THE RIM ROSE DON’T BE SCARED)

  20. bigrut8719@yahoo.com'
    rut November 12, 2009 at 4:29 pm #

    Felipe,

    Rose isnt attacking the rim this season because he has literally can’t. The Bulls are not hitting their outside shots (thanks Salmons) so the other team is clogging the lane. Therefore, Rose cannot attack the rim because there are 5 guys in the paint.

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