One thing players learn quickly in the NBA is there's very little mercy. A short-handed team can produce a valiant effort and still watch fate swat away a victory in the final seconds.
On Monday night at the United Center, Denver extended its winning streak to 12 games with an action-packed 119-118 overtime victory over the Bulls that was ultimately settled on a video screen.
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After Andre Iguodala knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Nuggets a 1-point lead with 7.1 seconds left, Marco Belinelli tossed up a baseline jumper that Joakim Noah tipped through the hoop with 1.7 seconds on the clock.
Officials decided to look a video replay and ruled the play offensive goaltending, wiping out the Bulls' game-winning basket.
That play was debatable. Noah seemed to first make contact with the ball while it was outside the cylinder, but a player is not allowed to touch a ball on its downward flight that has a chance to hit the rim.
What made the Bulls so upset is the officials did not review a tip-in by Denver's Kosta Koufos with 46.4 seconds left. That one was clearly offensive goaltending since the ball was still sitting on the rim when it was touched. Without using replay, it was ruled a good basket and gave the Nuggets a 116-115 lead, despite the Bulls' bench going crazy.
"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?" Noah said in the locker room.
"There's just got to be consistency in when you can review. It's just frustrating how things like that can happen. I know the refs are doing the best they can in those situations, but it cost us the game today, so it's disappointing."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was told that since there was no call made on Koufos' tip-in, it wasn't reviewable. The basket counted and play simply continued.
On the other hand, referees are allowed to review 3-point baskets or shot-clock violations after they happen. A Denver basket midway through the fourth quarter was erased by video review because it came after the shot clock expired.
Both Noah and Thibodeau contended the referees didn't make a definitive call after Noah's tip went through the net. A timeout occurred, and the play was reviewed.
"I asked them about Koufos' play and they told me because they didn't make the call, they couldn't review it," said Thibodeau, who yelled at officials after the final horn. "If that's the rule, they're right.
"My point is, at that point in the game, in a hard-fought game, that's why we have video review, to make sure we get it right. So we review one and we don't review the other?"
A pool reporter spoke to crew chief Ken Mauer, but the referee was not asked why one play was reviewed and the other wasn't.
"I don't understand, why wouldn't you review that one?" Noah asked. "That's what's frustrating. How are you going to review that one but you're not going to review the one two plays before that. That's (expletive), man (more expletives)."
Of course, the Bulls had plenty of chances to win this game without relying on video reviews. Nate Robinson, who tied the score by hitting a 3-pointer with 13.4 seconds left in regulation, missed a free throw that would have given the Bulls a 3-point lead with 18.4 seconds left in overtime.
The Bulls also had a 4-point lead twice at the start of the extra session and couldn't keep the momentum.
The Nuggets built a 14-point advantage by hitting 14 of their first 16 shots in the second quarter. They seemed to be sitting back on defense, allowing the Bulls to launch long-range attempts, knowing a miss could lead to a long rebound and a fastbreak opportunity.
Denver's weak spot was its defense, though. The Bulls scored on their last seven possessions of the second quarter to stay within 53-45 at halftime. The Nuggets led 96-87 with 4:32 left before the Bulls made a final surge.