Nate Robinson, Wilson Chandler

Nillz Hitz is back with a look at the fallout from the Bulls’ recent controversial loss.

The Bulls’ 118 to 119 loss to the Denver Nuggets Monday night confused and infuriated the masses. Fans felt cheated and demanded an explanation. Joakim Noah referred to the dramatic overtime ending as Benny’s feces. In his fit of rage, Tom Thibodeau had to be restrained from officials like an angry drunk on St. Patrick’s Day who had been cut off by the bartender after too many green beers.

Emotions were high, but only partially warranted. Upon closer examination, the narrative was oversimplified, the takeaways too negative.

YOUR ARGUMENT IS INVALID. The crux of the controversy stems from a goaltending call on Joakim’s tip-in of Marco Belinelli’s failed attempt to play hero yet again (incredibly, the shot would’ve been Belinelli’s 4th game-winning basket of this season – all of which were the culmination of a mad scramble). The process in assessing the goaltend was strange to say the least – more on this below – but the referees ultimately got the call right. No matter what definition of goaltending you’d like to dissect, Joakim’s play fits the criteria. The ball was in its descent with a possibility of not only hitting the rim, but also a chance (albeit unlikely and in need of a friendly bounce) of going in. This sequence diffuses the supporting, yet flimsy “cylinder” argument many Bulls fans had selectively applied.  Our friends at perfectly investigated the issue here.

More indicative of the violation’s legitimacy is whether the reverse had occurred. Imagine the Nuggets Javale McGee misdirecting the ball at the very same point as Joakim’s tip-in attempt (not beyond the realm of possibility for the “Shaqtin A Fool” fixture).  We would all be crying defensive basket interference and rightfully so.

No Javale, we don't know what happened either.
No Javale, we don’t know what happened either.

TAKE THAT & REWIND IT BACK. Bulls fans do have understandable beef in the inconsistent application of the referees’ replay review. Less than a minute earlier in overtime, the Nuggets’ Kosta Koufos guided the ball into Denver’s basket as it seemingly rested on the rim. Despite the inconclusive nature of the play, the officials neglected to conduct a video review that would have disqualified the basket under the aforementioned goaltending rules. As a result, the Nuggets were allowed two points.

The alleged defense for the officials’ decision to dismiss a replay is that technological assistance would have been permitted only if the violation was called in the first place. While these stipulations are absurd as is, the real issue is why the officials wouldn’t err on the side of caution given the legal uncertainty of Koufos’ tip. These conservative calls, while often considered oversensitive, occur all the time with flagrant fouls. Officials are inclined to initially categorize a hard foul as a flagrant for the benefit of replay review and potential reversal.

AMNESIA. Although the referees only exercised their due diligence to the detriment of the Bulls, it’s difficult for me to cite any one play as the sole reason the Bulls lost. Apparently, no one remembers the sequence of overtime errors that facilitated the defeat as much as the botched replays. Had a loose ball been secured in the moments leading up to the Koufos tip, the Bulls would have been up 1 with less than 50 seconds to play. Despite his team high 34 points, Nate Robinson’s missed free throw gave Denver more options during their final possession only down 2. Under this circumstance, you’d obviously prefer the Bulls to run the Nuggets off the three point line and settle for a second overtime at worst. Noah ended up overplaying Andre Miller’s drive that led to Andre Iguodala’s decent look for three. While Iguodala could barely throw a rock into the ocean all night (3-14 shooting), I would’ve liked Noah to re-commit to him on the perimeter once Jimmy Butler forced Miller to pick up his dribble (I realize this may be a bit ambitious for a defensive player of the year candidate accustomed to patrolling the paint). In the end, a series of missed opportunities led to the Bulls’ demise Monday night – an explanation always less controversial and sometimes more difficult to accept over suspect officiating.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. The controversy surrounding this loss overshadows the fact that the shorthanded Bulls nearly defeated the hottest team in the NBA outside of Miami. The Nuggets, a dark horse title contender currently sitting 5th in the far superior West, entered the United Center Monday riding an 11 game winning streak (at the time of this writing, the Nuggets have now won 13 straight after another victory in Oklahoma City). Bulls fans may claim the referees stole Monday’s game, but the reality is that the Bulls, on a 6 man rotation no less, actually played the role of thief.

Similar to their first encounter in February, the Nuggets ran roughshod over the Bulls for the majority of the game, offensively dominating the paint with 68 points (+18) and scoring 30 on the fast break (+22). Unlike that 32 point “debacle in Denver,” the Bulls overcame double digit deficits on multiple occasions and gave themselves a chance to win at the end. Moral victories get old as quickly as Harlem Shake videos, but we should still acknowledge a resilient performance, especially on the heels of an impressive 18 point victory Friday night at Golden State.

Have the Bulls turned the corner for the stretch run of the regular season or will they revert back to the D-league team that lost by 42 points in Sacramento less than a week ago? With the majority of their remaining 16 games versus non-playoff teams and a healed & rested cavalry hopefully on its way back, the Bulls are primed for a strong finish before the playoffs.

DID I DO THAT?: The happiest/most relieved guy in the Bulls locker room Monday night had to be Marquis Teague. The rookie point guard was caught half-celebrating after Javale McGee “thrunked” (throw-in dunk) over Joakim Noah in the 4th quarter. It appeared that for a split-second, Teague was so overcome with excitement that he forgot which team he played for. Luckily for Teague, his momentary lapse in judgment should fly under the radar amid all the story-lines above.



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