With 5.7 seconds left, down one in an OT thriller against the Nuggets (that no one was watching because Miami-Boston was mid-climax), the Bulls inbounded to Marco Belinelli. Belinelli drove left and put up a fallaway jumper that looked just short—but in swooped Joakim Noah to tip it in, and seemingly hand Chicago the game. Denver called time out; the officials conferred, and waved off the bucket. Offensive basket interference. Denver wins.
From every angle of the replay, the call was spot-on. Belinelli's shot was on its way down, and was going to hit rim. But the call didn't happen in a vacuum.
Forty-five seconds earlier, Kosta Koufous had committed what looked like his own basket interference nudging home a Ty Lawson layup. Despite the howls from the Chicago bench, the officials said they couldn't review it because no violation had been called on the floor. That's the correct interpretation—and doesn't explain why the refs reviewed Noah's tip, despite initially calling the basket good.
“I just don’t understand,” Noah said. “Why wouldn’t you review that one. That’s what’s frustrating. How are you going to review [mine] but you can’t review the one two plays before that. It’s [bleep], man. It’s [bleep].”
Across the two controversial plays, the refs only went 1-for-4 in making correct decisions. They were wrong when they called Koufos's tip-in a good basket, but right when they declined to review it. They were wrong when they called Noah's finish a good basket, and wrong to review it (they eventually got the right call; they just shouldn't have been allowed to even check).
Per NBA rules, the officials only had to face one question afterwards. The question, from NBA.com's Steve Aschburner, seems like a wasted one, though it opens up a whole can of worms:
With Bulls media boss Tim Hallam as go-between, I was able to meet with the referees in their dressing room. I put my question to veteran Ken Mauer: What’s the difference in ruling between an alley-oop pass that is delivered to the rim and dunked, compared to the ball that Noah deflected into the basket?
“There is no difference. 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 it’s goaltending. That’s it.”
So all those lob-dunks we rightfully celebrate should actually be basket interference, but they're just never called. This won't make Chicago feel better, nor will any comforting words about good karma. Chance may smooth itself out over the course of a season, but in a single overtime period those scales can be mighty unbalanced.