Thibodeau's frustration was based upon two plays, both of which appeared to be offensive goaltending, and both of which went against the Bulls late in overtime.
The first one came with the Bulls leading 115-114 with less than a minute left. Denver guard Ty Lawson drove to the rim and missed a layup, but Nuggets big man Kosta Koufos tipped the ball in with 46.4 seconds left as the ball appeared to be still on the rim. The officials let the play go and did not review it, despite a new NBA rule addendum that allows officials to review a play in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter and any play in overtime. The key is that a violation must be called on the floor in order for officials to be able to review it on courtside monitors.
The last play that doomed the Bulls and caused so much controversy was with the Bulls trailing 119-118 with less than 10 seconds left. Marco Belinelli missed a fadeaway jumper, but Joakim Noah grabbed the ball and dropped it in the basket that apparently gave the Bulls the lead. The scoreboard at the United Center gave the Bulls the points and a 120-119 lead, but the officials made the call on the floor and went to the monitors, affirming the original call and giving the Nuggets the ball with 1.7 seconds left. Minutes after the game had ended, Thibodeau tried to make sense of it all.
"I don't understand it," he said. "I don't understand it one bit. Koufos' play, I asked why it wasn't reviewed. Clearly it was on the rim, and they told me that because they didn't make the call, they couldn't review it. If that is the rule, then that is the rule. I thought we had the video stuff to make sure we got it right. Then down on the other end, they are tough calls on bang-bang plays, but I don't understand why one is reviewable and the other one isn't. After watching the replay, and I watched it when it occurred, they never made the call on that either."
Thibodeau said he understands the officials have a tough job to do, but he knew those decisions helped change the outcome of the game.
"It's a tough play," the frustrated coach said. "From my angle, it looked like it was a good play, it looked like the ball was short. Koufos' [play], I know, was on the rim, and to me I guess we have to call the league and get an interpretation. Maybe I don't understand the rule correctly."
Referee Ken Mauer explained to a pool reporter that the reason Noah's play was called was because the officials deemed that he impeded the ball's progress as it headed to the rim.
"There is no difference," Mauer said, while responding to the question regarding the difference between an alley-oop pass and Noah's play. "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 its goaltending. That's it."
For his part, Noah was emotional about how he believed the Bulls were wronged.
"Very disappointing," Noah said. "I feel like you play this game so hard and maybe I just don't understand the rules or something, but 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's got to be consistency in when you can review [a play]. It's just frustrating how things like that can happen. I know that the refs are doing the best that they can in those situations, but it cost us the game today, so it's disappointing."
Bulls forward Luol Deng was struggling for an explanation as well. The Bulls' biggest issue being why wasn't a call made on the floor regarding the Koufos play, especially after it didn't appear as though a call was instantly made on the floor after Noah's play.
"I think we got to know what the rules really are," Deng said. "It's a little confusing. The game is over, obviously. They won. I don't know how it goes. I don't know why you review the tip in by Koufos, we thought it was goaltending. I don't know, we got to see the plays. But they didn't go back and review it. And Jo's tip in, at first it was good and we ran back and their bench was complaining and a timeout was called. And then it was reviewed and then it was a no-call. Maybe that's the rules, I don't know, but it should be consistent."