Commentary

Officially, Bulls have bigger issues

Not all the blame for losing to the Nuggets can be pinned on the referees

Updated: March 19, 2013, 1:36 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah ended his brief locker room news conference with a string of words unprintable on a family website.

Carlos Boozer calmly talked for about a minute before telling reporters, "I don't feel like talking too much more."

Mr. Happy himself, Tom Thibodeau, set a team record for expletives addressed to referees on the floor late in overtime after a controversial decision.

For a team that needs a break, this particular loss was tough to swallow.

"We felt like we got robbed," Boozer said.

They might have, but the Chicago Bulls lost 119-118 in overtime to the Denver Nuggets on Monday night because they allowed 68 points in the paint and 30 fast-break points.

No confusion there. But the game's ending left everyone scrambling for the NBA rulebook.

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Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau wasn't happy with the officiating in his team's loss to the Nuggets.

There were two calls in the last minute of the game that got everyone heated and certainly confused.

During a timeout, officials told Thibodeau they couldn't review a Kosta Koufos tip-in on the rim, obvious offensive goaltending, with 46.4 seconds left in overtime because they didn't make an initial call of basket interference.

Then, with 1.7 seconds left, during a timeout, officials overturned a Noah catch and tip on a Marco Belinelli baseline jumper, calling it offensive goaltending.

The Noah call was seemingly correct if you read NBA rule 11 g, which states a player can't "touch any live ball from within the playing area that is on its downward flight with an opportunity to touch the basket ring."

But the Bulls insist no call was made on the floor and replay was used to make it during a Nuggets' immediate timeout. Basically the opposite of the Koufos play.

"They called it good, they called basket," Noah said.

The would-be game-winning basket was waved off and Thibodeau erupted. It was perhaps the angriest we've seen him in Chicago, and a clear sign of how much this game meant. He was still heated when he met the media.

"I don't understand it," Thibodeau said. "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's the rule, then that that's the rule. I thought we had video stuff to make sure we got it right. Then down on the other end, they are tough calls for 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."

Referee Ken Mauer told a pool reporter, "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 its goaltending. That's it."

According to the NBA's list of instant replay situations and procedures, a new rule was added this season, allowing officials to use instant replay on goaltending or basket interference calls when they are "not reasonably certain whether a goaltending or basket interference violation was correctly called." The rule states, "video review will take place ONLY in the last two minutes of the fourth period and all overtime periods" and "review must take place immediately after the preceding violation call."

But, here's the key, there has to be a goaltending or basket interference call to trigger the replay.

As of this writing, I have no idea if a referee made a call or not.

What I do understand is how tough it must be to lose a game like that, especially considering how hard the Bulls worked to get back in it and send it to overtime, and especially with how the Bulls were playing, once again, without Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson, Rip Hamilton and that Derrick Rose guy.

Thibodeau was left muttering about it being a "48-minute game." One of many mistakes on the night. Just ask Luol Deng, who played 50:04 in the overtime game. Or Marco Belinelli, who played 51:13.

The Bulls got off to a good start, but were outscored 32-25 in the second quarter. The Nuggets had five of their 12 dunks in the quarter, and made 14 of 20 shots.

"They play fast and we were jogging back," Thibodeau said. "The start of the second quarter was crushing."

The Bulls mounted a solid comeback, but trailed by eight with 3:26 left. Nate Robinson, who had a season-high 34, hit a 3-pointer to start a run and then another with 13.4 seconds left to tie the game at 105-105.

The Bulls scored the first four in overtime and looked ready to steal a win. Noah, who sat for most of the second quarter with foul trouble, was his All-Star self in overtime, with six points and four rebounds in the extra period. Overall, he had 14 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 7 blocks.

The Bulls might have lost the game, and perhaps have a real reason to complain about it, but they put on a good show for an undermanned team. That counts for something, right?

"I don't want to hear that," Thibodeau said. "We have to get the job done. We made a lot of mistakes."

That they did. I was expecting a loss. Who wasn't? The only thing that went right for the Bulls on Monday was Miami coming back to beat Boston.

The Bulls and Celtics have 36-30 records, but Chicago kept a tentative hold on sixth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race by holding the tiebreaker.

With 16 games left, there is no time for whining or blaming the referees. If you want a win, don't let Wilson Chandler score 35 off the bench and try to defend the paint for more than intermittent periods.

It's easy to say that even without Gibson, the Bulls have to play better interior defense. But it's tougher in practice, especially against a powerful team such as Denver.

Rose practiced before the game in his special green St. Patrick's Day shoes. But until he puts them on during a game, the Bulls will remain luckless. Until Gibson and Hinrich can play, the Bulls will be overextended.

It's the same old story for the Bulls. They don't have enough to win with right now.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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