By Ben Golliver
The NBA announced Thursday that its referees missed a foul by Kobe Bryant on Ricky Rubio during the closing seconds of a 120-117 Lakers win over the Timberwolves at the Target Center on Wednesday night. The ruling, which was first reported by the Associated Press, amounts to a simple apology and has no bearing on Wednesday's result.
An NBA review concluded that Rubio should have been awarded three free throws after Bryant "fouled Rubio while Rubio was in his shooting motion" as he attempted a potential game-tying three-pointer at the end of regulation. Had the foul been whistled, Rubio, a career 78.7 percent foul shooter, could have forced overtime by going three-for-three from the line. However, the referees ruled that Bryant had not fouled Rubio, ending the game and enraging both the Spanish point guard and Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman.
This was the second NBA officiating review involving Bryant in two weeks.
All in all it was a bad sequence for Bryant, who got away with one. With 3.4 seconds remaining, the Lakers All-Star guard missed a game-icing free throw, which Rubio rebounded. Wasting no time, Rubio pushed the ball up the court at full speed and launched a run from roughly two steps behind the free throw line. Trailing Rubio on the play, Bryant attempted to contest the shot by reaching across the left side of Rubio's body with his right arm. Bryant appeared to contact Rubio's shooting arm just before his release.
Bryant, as you might expect, said the play was ruled correctly on the court.
“That’s not a foul,” Bryant told told reporters after the game. “They ain’t calling that s—. I don’t think I got him. That’s just a tough call to make. I just put my hand in. It’s not like I went out and smacked him across the arm or anything like that.”
And what if the foul had been called and Rubio had forced the game into an extra period?
“We would have gone into overtime and won the game,” Bryant said. “It’s as simple as that.”
The Star-Tribune reported that the Timberwolves made clear their position on the dispute.
Fifteen minutes after the game, Rubio sat at his locker with his head buried in a towel. Later he said, “I don’t like to lose. I hate it. Sometimes it’s tough when you give everything and something like that happens. Just keep going through, it’s tough, it’s tough.”
In videotaped postgame comments, Adelman made it clear that he believed Rubio was fouled: “What do you think? I mean, come on.”
He then sidestepped a question about whether Bryant's superstar reputation might have influenced the call. “You’re not going to goad me into that,” the longtime coach said.
Bryant finished with a game-high 31 points (on 12-for-21 shooting), seven assists and three rebounds. Rubio finished with 13 points (on 5-for-13 shooting), seven assists and three rebounds.
The Lakers improved to 37-35 on the season and maintained their one-game lead over the Jazz for the Western Conference's No. 8 seed. The lottery-bound Timberwolves fell to 25-45. Video via YouTube user firstandskol | Second video via YouTube user KB824Legend