Bulls lose to Nuggets on the replay


Nov 11

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It had already been a terrific finish before the controversial finish.

In the end Tuesday, the Bulls saw official opinion deny them a sensational win over the Denver Nuggets which officially became a 90-89 loss.

Derrick Rose, with a team high 22 points including 10 in the fourth quarter in his best game of the season, had picked up a loose ball and scored after a terrific Kirk Hinrich save to bring the Bulls into an 87-87 tie with 33.9 seconds left.

Carmelo Anthony, who led the Denver Nuggets with 20 points but on eight of 22 shooting, worked Luol Deng along the left baseline away from help and his 14 foot fadeaway gave the Nuggets an 89-87 lead with 13.1 seconds remaining.

This was getting to be fun, if agonizing.

Rose took the inbounds, crossed over Chauncey Billups and was fouled, calmly converting both free throws for an 89 tie with 10.4 seconds left.

Billups first drove past Hinrich and Noah and was cut off by a rotating Deng and tried to throw in the left corner to Anthony. But John Salmons tipped it out of bounds with 4.3 seconds left. Billups then beat Hinrich off the dribble and was fouled, a call Hinrich agreed was accurate. Billups made the first, but intentionally missed the second with sixth tenths of a second left, hoping for a scramble and the game to end.

But Joakim Noah, with 12 points and 21 rebounds in another dedicated effort, grabbed the rebound and the referees put three tenths of a second on the clock. Enough time for a prayer. Could it be answered?


Hinrich was to take the ball out and wasn’t quite sure what he could do.

“I knew (Lakers’ Derek) Fisher’s fourth tenths,” Hinrich recalled of the famous winner in the 2004 playoffs. “They told us in the huddle you can catch and throw one up there with three tenths because I asked,” Hinrich said. “I wanted to know if my only option was to throw it up to the rim and have somebody tip it in or throw it to somebody else and have them quick-shoot it. The play was for Derrick to come off (for a pass at the basket), but they were sitting at the rim. So I just pitched it to Brad (Miller).”

The lumbering center stepped outside with Kenyon Martin staying by the basket for a potential lob. Miller took the pass facing Hinrich and turned slightly toward the basket as he caught the ball, pushing off his left foot with his right foot flying out like a sort of stumbling ballerina.

And the ball went in!

Bulls 91 Denver 90. Game! What a win!

Or not?

Miller raised his both arms in exultation and was mobbed by his jumping teammates at the seemingly improbable victory.

“My thinking was that if they have only three tenths of a second then they have to hit a miraculous shot,” said Billups. “Then they did hit a miraculous shot. It showed that strategy can come back and bite you. As soon as I saw the flight of the ball, I knew it was good. Then I was sitting and just 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.”

But several minutes later after the cheering had died, the game was buried for the Bulls.

The referees watched the final shot frame by frame with some three dozen shots they have from a special overhead camera and concluded Miller had not gotten the shot off before the horn.

Ecstasy turned to agony.

The Nuggets snuck off winners.

The Bulls headed to Toronto for Wednesday’s game now 4-3 in their fourth consecutive game decided by three points or fewer.


OK, the big question. Did the Bulls get cheated?

The referees insisted they did not, and there is no appeal to that. Because hardly anyone knew what was going on.

“I had just read the rule a couple of weeks ago,” said Denver coach George Karl. “You can’t pivot and make a shot with three tenths of a second.”

Not true. You can if you can get it off in time. You probably can’t, but there’s no NBA rule saying you cannot do that.

There used to be an NBA rule after the famous Trent Tucker one tenths of a second winner against the Bulls in January 1990. After that, the league determined certain moves with the ball were impossible to make with less that a half second left. I consulted several current and former referees after the game and they said the rule changed and now a referee discretion is only at one tenth and two tenths with a tipped ball as there cannot be a shot at less than three tenths of a second. That’s because of the addition of video replay. The referees now simply go to the replay, during which they have access to several camera angles not available to TV and make a judgment call about whether the ball was out of the player’s hand before the buzzer and light signaled the end of the game.

They are asked to make a judgment call, and their judgment was the shot didn’t go off in time.

Though I did watch carefully the previous play when Billups drove and was fouled by Hinrich and I thought there was more than sixth tenths of a second when that foul was called. I thought that was where the review should have been, which could have given the Bulls time for a full shot.

Also, home town scorers formerly stopped and started the clock. After several mistakes and questions about bias, it now goes to the referees to start and stop the clock with the timers on their belts.

And add to that heartbreak two ironies: Had there not been instant replay, the Bulls would have won since the referees first signalled the shot was good.

“I always thought that three tenths of a second was enough time to get a shot off,” said Noah. “The way Brad threw it up, he didn’t follow thru. I thought that it was definitely good. Even looking at the play on replay, to over rule it, I felt, how could you overrule it?”

In addition, there used to be the so called “hot potato” rule. Not that it was a rule, but one referee told me the tiebreaker on these point three and point four shots was usually if the player got the ball and tossed it up like the proverbial hot potato. That referee thought Miller did, though that’s no longer the guide for referees.

“It’s a split second thing,” noted Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “I thought it was good when I first saw it. That is irrelevant. The refs have to make the call. My understanding (is) point three is enough time to catch and shoot, but I guess the ball was on his fingertips, probably. The refs made the call after looking at it about 20 times.

“We’ve had some close games already,” said Del Negro. “We were not able to pull this one out. We have to score points to take pressure off the defense. I liked the way our guys fought thru this game. Denver is a top scoring team and we held them to 90. Joakim was outstanding again. We had some good performances. That’s a tough one to swallow.”

It was too bad it ended that way because it did somewhat obscure an excellent comeback and determined effort after the Bulls trailed by seven with six minutes remaining. Noah had a career high in rebounds after a career high in points the last game. Deng had 21 points and an excellent defensive job on Anthony. Rose began to show some of that great quickness with a fabulous block from behind on Billups at the end of the first half and that floater we hadn’t seen much of this season.

Plus, the Bulls held one of the league’s highest scoring teams to almost 20 points below their season average and one of the best shooting teams to just 41.7 percent shooting, matching their low for the season.

So it was impressive the way the improved, active defense led by Noah’s rebounding kept the team in a game the Nuggets always looked like they were poised to break open. But the Bulls still continued to make it difficult on themselves with erratic shooting.

They were four of 18 on threes and shooting 25 percent for the season, 23 of 91.

“It’ a long season. We’ve got to keep battling,” said Del Negro. “We still need to score some points to take pressure off us defensively. Some guys are logging heavy minutes (Noah 42, Deng and Rose more than 39). We’ve got to keep working.”

Which means defense since the next two opponents, the Raptors and 76ers, also are teams that like to push the ball and try to outscore you. No resting in the half court against these teams.

Sure, the Bulls could use Tyrus Thomas, who spoke with reporters after Tuesday’s game for the first time since his surgery.

Thomas said he assumes it will be a four-to-six week rehabilitation, though he said he hadn’t asked the doctor yet. He thought in another week he could begin running to stay in condition. Thomas said the injury was especially baffling because he wasn’t in pain.

“I was working out and I was like, “Damn, I broke my arm. I really broke it.’ That’s why nobody believed me. I was walking around (telling people) I broke my arm. I said, ‘Hey, I just broke my arm.’ You’ve got to take the good with the ball and do what you’ve got to do.”

Advice, too, for the Bulls.

Led by Deng, they came out shooting unusually well, but trailed 22-20 after one as Anthony and Billups were parading to the line early. Noah showed he isn’t letting up by ripping an offensive rebound away from Kenyon Martin.

Denver bolted out by 10 early in the second quarter behind Anthony. But the Bulls responded impressively out of a timeout as Del Negro seemed to be making the right moves on this night in defensive switches and play calls.

Taj Gibson, with a nice 10 points, six rebounds and three steals, took a pass from Hinrich for a jumper and then after a Hinrich jumper grabbed a loose ball for a dunk. That run helped the Bulls stay within 46-43 at halftime with Rose’s spectacular block from behind on Billups after Rose’s own turnover.

His speed seems to be returning.

Salmons actually hit a pair of threes in the third quarter while the Bulls defense throttled Anthony with Deng staying in front of him and help coming when Anthony tried to get into the lane. The Bulls have done a particularly nice job this season creating that defensive shell around the paint that defensive coaches preach.

Denver still led 71-66 after three, but the Bulls fought again. Deng muscled a rebound away from Nene and then converted a nice reverse along the baseline when he powered through three Nuggets. Then Rose took over with three straight pull up jumpers before a Salmons three from the left corner brought the Bulls on a 7-2 run within 85-83 with 3:16 left.

The Nuggets then got a break when Anthony leg whipped Deng but was not called for a foul and then Deng seemingly got mad and blocked Anthony’s layup attempt out of a timeout.

“We did a good job (on Anthony) as a team,” said Deng. “ We tried to take him out of his jumper and make him drive. I thought as a team, the guys had my back whenever he drove. It was a good team effort on the weak side defensively.”

But Martin then got a dunk on a pass from Earl Smith, nee J.R., who is asking to be called by his given name as he says he’s going to be a new, less suspended person. The J.R. actually stood for junior, though his father was Earl Jr. and he is Earl III. Hey, don’t ask me. It’s the NBA.

Hinrich came back with a 20 footer as Smith flew by him and Hinrich stepped in for the shot, and then came the last second and thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

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