The Nuggets defeated the Bulls 119-118 in overtime at the United Center on Monday night after a Joakim Noah basket in the closing seconds was disallowed by the referees for offensive basket interference.
With 5.7 seconds remaining in overtime, Chicago inbounded the ball to guard Marc Belinelli, who drove hard to his left and elevated for a mid-range jumper near the baseline as the clock ticked under four seconds. Belinelli's try was clearly short, and Chicago's All-Star center, who was running down the middle of the paint, adjusted to tap the ball with his left hand, knocking home the apparent go-ahead basket with 1.8 seconds left. The play, which put Noah's instincts, length and timing to full use, sent the Chicago broadcasting crew, the Bulls' bench and the home crowd into a full celebration.
Color commentator Stacey King exclaimed: "He came from the ceiling! Joakim Noah! Big time players make big time plays, Chicago!"
However, a video review of the tip-in led the referees to assess an offensive basket interference violation. This year, the NBA instituted video review of goaltending calls in the final two minutes of games.
Referee Ken Mauer explained the call in a statement to a pool reporter after the game.
What is the difference in ruling between an alley-oop pass that is delivered to the rim and dunked, compared to the ball that Noah deflected into the basket?
"There is no difference. 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 it's goaltending. That's it."
Did the officials get this one correct? It would appear so, although it is an open question as to whether they followed the proper procedure to get there. (Tuesday update: the NBA validated the officials' procedure. See below.)
Rule 11, Section I b of the NBA's rule book assesses an offensive goaltending violation if a player "touch[es] any ball from within the playing area when it is above the basket ring and within the imaginary cylinder."
This type of play is further addressed in the NBA's video rulebook.
"This is an example of offensive basket interference. Players are not allowed to touch the ball while any part of the ball remains in the cylinder above the basket ring. On this play, the offensive player taps the ball into the basket while the ball is still in the cylinder above the basket. This is an offensive basket interference violation."
"Offensive players are not permitted to touch any live ball within the playing area that is on its downward flight with an opportunity to score. This is considered to be a "field goal attempt".
Here's a freeze frame of Noah's tip attempt, which appears to show a significant portion of the ball within the imaginary cylinder while the ball is still above the basket on its descent.
Update: Under league rules, the referees can only trigger a video review if offensive basket interference was originally called on the play. While a video replay was conducted immediately after the basket, the Chicago Tribune reported that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and a number of his players believed that the call wasn't made in real time, which would invalidate the review process that concluded with Noah's basket being disallowed.
"They went to the timeout and then they decided they were going to review," Thibodeau said. "I didn't see them call it. And I watched on the replay and didn't see it called there."
Noah, using two expletives, said officials called "basket" on the floor.
"It's very disappointing," Noah said. "You play the game so hard. 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 has to be consistency. The refs are doing the best they can. But it cost us the game."
Added Carlos Boozer: "They counted the bucket, put the points up on the board. We're obviously excited and celebrating. Their bench started screaming to review and (officials) reviewed and took it away."
Mauer's statement to the pool reporter, sent out in a release to the media by the Bulls, did not include any clarification on the officials' process in initiating the review. If a league office review of the play finds that the goaltending video review wasn't initiated properly, the Bulls can likely expect an official apology.
Update (Tuesday): Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reported Tuesday that an NBA league office review concluded that Mauer did call goaltending on Noah prior to initiating the review, thus validating the official's review process and the result (no basket).
Noah finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and seven blocks in 35 minutes. Nate Robinson led the Bulls with 34 points. Chicago fell to 36-30 and remained tied with Boston for the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Denver won its 12th straight game to improve to 46-22, leaving the Nuggets percentage points behind Memphis for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. Wilson Chandler led the way with a game-high 35 points (on 13-for-21 shooting), nine rebounds, four assists and two steals off the bench. Update: Thanks to @ChrisMommsen and @ArunKnows for the addendum.