For all the injuries that have piled up, the Bulls have always sworn by a "no excuses" policy.
That guideline was put into question Monday night, as issues over the league’s review policy had Tom Thibodeau and his team frustrated and left with questions after a 119-118 overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets.
With 46 seconds remaining, Denver’s Ty Lawson drove the lane for a layup. While the ball was still touching the rim, teammate Kosta Koufos tipped the ball in, much to the dismay of the Thibodeau, who called called a timeout, down 116-115, furious that offensive interference was not whistled.
“I asked [the officials] why didn’t they review it? Clearly it was on the rim,” said a frustrated Thibodeau after the game. “And they told me because they didn’t make the [goaltend] call, they couldn’t review it.”
Just a few plays later, after an Andre Iguodala 3-pointer put the Nuggets ahead with 7 seconds left, Marco Belinelli drove to his left and took an off-balanced shot while fading out of bounds. Joakim Noah appeared to corral the short miss and tip it home to give the Bulls a one-point lead with 1.7 seconds left in overtime. The basket was awarded and the Nuggets called timeout after pleading for officials to review the play, even though goaltending had not been called on the floor.
After a review, Noah’s tip-in was waved off and the Bulls, despite combined back from a 14-point deficit in the first half, fell at home.
“Don’t understand it one bit,” Thibodeau said. “It’s a tough play. From my angle, it looked like it was a good play. It looked like the ball was short. Koufos’ [shot], I know was sitting on the rim. I guess we have to call the league and get an interpretation. Maybe I don’t understand the rule correctly."
By rule, the call is correct. Noah's tip-in came in during the ball's descent and still had a chance of touching the rim. But the Bulls’ argument comes with the fact that they were awarded the basket with no goaltending called on the floor until after Denver argued for a review during a timeout.
“If you look back at it, you can see their bench screaming at the refs because they were upset at the call,” Luol Deng said. “Then there was a timeout and there was a review. When Koufos got the tip in, I thought we called timeout. It was overtime and it wasn’t reviewed either. I don’t know if they’re right or if they’re wrong. We just need to know what the rules really are.”
Thibodeau said he didn’t see any of the three officials wave off Noah’s basket both during live-action and after having reviewed the play several times in the locker room.
“Very disappointing,” Noah said. “You play this game so hard and maybe I just don’t understand the rules or something. 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. 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. It’s disappointing.”
Blown call or not, the Bulls were lucky even to be in the position to feel like they had one taken from them.
The Nuggets outscored the Bulls 68-50 in the paint. Often times, those baskets came uncontested.
Denver also got 71 points from their reserves and held a 30-8 edge in fast-break points.
“They play fast. We were jogging back,” Thibodeau acknowledged. “When you’re jacking quick shots and have time on the clock and you’re chasing down your own shot – you don’t have floor balance – you’re not protecting the basket. That’s beating yourself. That’s just a lack of discipline. That, we've got to get corrected.”