CHICAGO — Chauncey Billups sat and laughed, figuring the Denver Nuggets would celebrate soon enough. In the meantime, the Chicago Bulls were having their moment.
Billups hit the go-ahead free throw with six-tenths of a second left, and Denver beat Chicago 90-89 on Tuesday night after a potential winning jumper by Kendallville native Brad Miller was overturned following a lengthy replay review.
“As soon as I saw the flight of the ball, I knew it was good,” Billups said. “Then, I was sitting and laughing. Not so much about the shot, but looking at their reaction. They were dancing and jumping around like they had just made the Sweet 16. The longer it took, the better I felt. It was a great ending.”
And a nerve-racking one.
Billups was fouled by Kirk Hinrich on a drive and then intentionally missed the second free throw after making the first to break the tie, figuring the Bulls would need a “miraculous” shot. He didn't count on this: Joakim Noah grabbing the rebound with three-tenths of a second remaining, and the Bulls nearly pulling it off.
After a timeout, Miller caught the inbounds pass from Hinrich and buried a jumper from the top of the key. The crowd went wild. So did the Bulls.
“It was crazy,” said Miller, who had two points in 14 minutes. “I was just trying to win a game, and that was a lot of fun.”
It didn't last. After about a 10-minute review, the officials ruled he did not get the shot off in time, and the Nuggets snapped a two-game losing streak.
“I thought it was good when I first saw it,” Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. “That is irrelevant. The refs have to make the call. My understanding — 0.3 is enough time to catch and shoot. But I guess the ball was on his fingertips, probably. The refs made the call after looking at it about 20 times.”
And the longer they took, the more confident Nuggets coach George Karl became that they would overturn the shot.
“Fortunately I just read the rule a couple of days ago that with three-tenths of a second you can't pivot or turn,” said Karl, who got his 939th win to move past Red Auberbach into eighth place on the NBA's all-time list.
“It doesn't count. The longer it took, I thought the more it was in our favor. We've talked about missing that second free throw. It's a perfect situation with five-tenths, it's imperfect at six or seven.”
Carmelo Anthony scored a season-low 20 points for Denver, while Billups added 17, and Kenyon Martin had 15 points and 10 rebounds after missing a game with a bruised left fibula.
Derrick Rose led Chicago with 22 points, while Luol Deng scored 21. Noah had a career-high 21 rebounds for the Bulls, who had won three straight.