The Chicago Bulls squeaked past the Boston Celtics last night 104-103 but not without controversy at the end of the nail-biter.
With Boston up 103-102 and 8.4 seconds left on the clock, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg called a timeout to draw up one final play to win the game for Chicago at home. When both teams came out of the timeout, the play was nothing special, just a simple isolation play for Bulls all-star Jimmy Butler.
Butler waited an awful long time to make his move on Celtics guard Marcus Smart, but with about three ticks left, Butler rose up over Smart for what was a pretty awkward looking jumper from the right wing that would decide the game. The buzzer went off with the shot in the air and Butler short armed the attempt and it was off the mark. Boston had won.
Well, at least that’s what everyone thought.
Because somehow, for reasons that are nearly impossible to try and justify, Marcus Smart was called for a shooting foul on Butler’s final shot. A call that sent the United Center from disappointment to jubilation in a matter of seconds. Smart, Isaiah Thomas, and Celtics head coach Brad Stevens were visibly outraged by the call.
This is one of those circumstances where there should be little debate. I have looked back at the replay of this shot 10,000 times since last night and no matter what angle I view it from, I see a great defensive play by Smart, not a shooting foul.
Because, while yes, Smart did ever so slightly graze Butler’s elbow on the way up on the shot, and I mean literally a fingertip, there is nowhere near enough contact to actually effect Butler’s jumper. The NBA rulebook clearly outlines what constitutes a shooting foul on this situation.
“Incidental contact with the hand against an offensive player shall be ignored if it does not affect the player’s speed, quickness, balance, and/or rhythm.”
Nevertheless, official Zach Zarba did whistle Smart for a foul despite the lack of sufficient contact and Butler subsequently sunk two free throws with 0.9 seconds left to give the Bulls the lead. Celtics big man Al Horford later missed the potential game winner for Boston on the other side.
Here’s another look:
There is still a lot to unpack here, and the Celtics flew out of Chicago last night feeling understandably cheated.
“Horrible call,” Isaiah Thomas told reporters after the game. “Bad call cost us a game. That’s horrible.”
Thomas added, “You see him raise his hand up like it’s a foul; the Bulls were even shocked. That’s horrible man. It cost you a game you should have won. That’s a bad call.”
Marcus Smart, the Celtics defender who was whistled for the final foul, also gave his take on just what happened on the controversial play.
“When Jimmy shot the ball, I heard him scream ‘no foul?'” Smart said after the game. “As soon as he said that, the whistle blew…I couldn’t believe it.”
I do want to point out that while this was an unfortunate and outrageous blown call, the Celtics didn’t exactly play their best basketball of the season last night either. Al Horford struggled all night, finishing with just seven points on 3-10 shooting and the Celtics were atrocious on the glass all night, letting Chicago win the battle on the boards 58-38. Also give the Bulls credit because they finished absolutely perfect from the free throw line as a team, hitting all 22 attempts they had.
The all-star break is now upon us. Both these teams will have one representative in this year’s game in New Orleans, with Thomas repping Boston and Butler representing Chicago on the Eastern Conference team. Both teams will have some time to rest and hopefully move on from the result of this game.
Andrew Kurzeja is a senior writer and contributor for the Asterisk Effect. Questions and comments can be submitted to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org