Non-Call Forces the Mavericks into an Uphill Climb

Nick PoustCorrespondent IIMay 10, 2009

DALLAS - MAY 09:  Forward Carmelo Anthony #15 of the Denver Nuggets smiles during play against the Dallas Mavericks in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 9, 2009 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The shot that shouldn't have counted did, as Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony shrugged off intentional contact by Dallas Mavericks forward Antoine Wright and drained the winning three-pointer in a 106-105 victory on Saturday.

Behind by two, the Denver Nuggets chose to play tight defense instead of foul with less than 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

Their strategy worked, as they forced Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki to shoot an off-balance, heavily covered 16-footer from the top of the key that went array. The Nuggets grabbed the rebound and called a timeout with seven seconds left.

The game was physical, and close throughout. The largest lead by either team was six, which was held by both. There was eleven ties and nine lead changes. Sixty-one fouls were called. Denver and Dallas shot under 42 percent from the field. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but a grueling battle nonetheless.

The Mavericks appeared in control, holding an advantage for a majority of the final period. They needed to win this game, and played with a sense of urgency. Dallas aggressively attacked Denver in the paint with regularity, then, because of this threat, spaced the floor effectively for open outside shots. Yet, despite running an efficient offense, their lead was slim.

This was in large part because Chauncey Billups, the Nuggets savvy point guard. Billups, who struggled in the first two games of the series, scoring just 24 points, exploded for 32 in this third matchup with the Mavericks. The loudest of his seven fourth quarter points came via a tying three-pointer midway through the period.

Nowitzki was equally impressive, as he trumped Billups scoring total with 33 points and answered his three-pointer of his own. The game went back and forth like this for the remainder; Denver would trim the deficit to one, only to see Dallas immediately increase the margin.

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It was enthralling: The Nuggets wanted to take a commanding 3-0 series lead, while the Mavericks desperately wanted to stay in the contention, and have a chance to tie the series in Game Four.

It seemed Dallas would get this opportunity, especially once guard Jason Terry nailed a wide-open three-pointer with a half a minute remaining for a four-point lead. Terry was one of many players to excel, providing a spark off the bench, scoring 17 points.

Despite his performance, and the satisfactory lead, the Mavericks squandered plenty of opportunities to break the game open. They missed three of six free-throws taken in the final five minutes, and had many pivotal empty possessions late.

On the Nuggets ensuing possession, it took Carmelo Anthony only three seconds to drive into the lane for a dunk and cut the deficit in half. The basket was inexplicably conceded by the Mavericks, which was the wrong move.

Teams ahead by more than three points in this situation, like Dallas, have the tendency to guard the three-point line and allow an easy two-pointer to be scored. I don’t understand why the Mavericks didn’t show any resistance, considering a stop would all but end the game. Nonetheless, the lead was just two, putting all the pressure on Dallas to score.

There was a four-second differential between shot clock and game clock, so Denver locked down on defense. Nowitzki had no choice to put up the shot, as his four teammates were defended as well as possible. As Billups snatched the rebound, the crowd fell silent. Too much time remained for the Nuggets.

Dallas had a foul to give before Denver would be shooting free throws. If well-timed, before a Nugget could get into a shooting motion, the Mavericks chances of winning the game would increase drastically. Anthony received the ball well beyond the three-point line, then fumbled it. He recovered, heavily defended by Antoine Wright, who was just inserted into the game for Nowitzki.

I, along with the fans, coaching staff, and his eleven fellow teammates, were waiting for him to foul. The clock ticked under three seconds, then two when Wright bumped Anthony twice, deliberately trying to commit a foul. 

Wright stopped, as did the other four Mavericks on the floor. Everyone was waiting for a whistle, but a foul wasn’t called. Anthony kept on playing, grabbed the ball and drained a three-pointer with one second left.

Just like that, it was a 106-105 Nuggets win.

This should not have happened. The referees had to know that the Mavericks had a foul to give, and that they were going to intentionally foul at some point. Ridiculously, they saw the bump as incidental, and not enough to warrant a foul.

There was no doubt a foul was committed, but even though the referees made a mess of the final seconds, Wright is partly to blame for the no call. He should have either fouled earlier, when Anthony was trying to regather possession, or made his intentional foul more blatant–hack him across the arm, or knock him out of bounds, something other than a few weak bumps. Still, the referees messed up, as they have done countless times at pivotal junctures this postseason.

This was nothing new. I am not jumping to the conclusion that this, or any other controversial series, has been rigged, but the poor officiating late in games is somewhat suspicious.

It’s almost as if either NBA Commissioner David Stern, or individual officials, like Ken Mauer, who blew this call, want certain teams to succeed, to make the playoffs, in their eyes, more exciting. This may be out of line to assume, but I think it’s fair.

There are different points of view and opinions on this topic, but there was no doubt that Mauer and the two other referees with their eyes fixed on the play dug the Mavericks a hole. A hole that may be too tough to dig out of, especially after such a shocking defeat that should not have happened.

This was a game of fouls, as a combined 89 free throws were attempted, but was decided by the lone foul that wasn’t called.

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