CHICAGO -- Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau described the play as a train wreck. Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel thought it was a great defensive play.
What divided the two sides so greatly Tuesday was a last-second play which helped decide a 80-76 Pacers’ win over the Bulls at the United Center.
With just under 10 seconds remaining and Pacers ahead by two points, Bulls center Joakim Noah had the ball near the 3-point line on the right side of the court. Deng was near the baseline and faked hard to his left, then broke to his right toward the basket, losing Pacers defender Paul George.
Noah quickly hit Deng with the ball. Hibbert, who was on the left side, saw the play unfolding, left Bulls forward Carlos Boozer and ran to the basket. As Deng rose to the rim, Hibbert approached and jumped as well. Bodies clashed, Deng fell backwards, and the ball slipped from his hands.
All three officials, Bennett Salvatore, Tony Brown and Mark Lindsay, saw no harm in Hibbert’s defense and made no call. Pacers forward David West picked up the loose ball, was fouled and sealed the win with two free throws.
On the sideline, Thibodeau was losing his mind. He yelled at the officials. He waved his arms in disgust. He stomped up and down the sideline.
Afterward, Thibodeau didn’t feel any better about the call.
“In my eyes, he got wiped out,” Thibodeau said. “I did not get an explanation. He had a layup. It was a train wreck.”
Deng used less of a strong tone, but he also believed he had been fouled. He also felt he had let his team down on the play.
“I got to see it again, but I thought I got fouled,” Deng said. “I haven’t seen it yet. ... Mad at myself that I didn’t get a shot. When he contacted me, I should have ... If I got a shot up even if I missed it I think a teammate could have got the rebound. That’s the one I think I got to do better with, that play.”
The Pacers’ locker room, of course, felt differently about the play.
For Hibbert, he said he had put in a lot of time in learning how to jump straight up on such plays to stay away from fouls.
“During the summer, I stayed in Indiana and worked with the coaches on defense -- just playing without fouling and blocking shots without fouling,” Hibbert said. “If I jump straight up in my spot, I will get that call. If you jump forward and you come down, they’ll call a foul. I’ve been working on that for the past couple years and I try to make sure I defend the rim without fouling.”
Vogel also thought the officials had made the right call and praised Hibbert for his positioning.
“He has been playing great defense for us,” Vogel said. “He is the best in the league in exercising verticality. That is what earns him no calls. If you can jump straight up and absorb the contact, you are not going to have the call called. Once he learned that and tried to take charges, he became one of the best bigs in the league.”