The Dallas Mavericks beat the Chicago Bulls last night in a 132-129 double overtime thriller that could prove to be the game of the season. Easily lost amid heroics of classic contests are the gaffes that made them possible at all – except in this case, that is.
With the Bulls up 108-105 and just over four seconds remaining on the game clock, Monta Ellis took the in-bounds pass and glided up the floor. Kirk Hinrich guarded him closely the whole way, narrowly avoiding a screen from Richard Jefferson in the process.
Just as Ellis gathered to heave a desperation 30-footer, Hinrich leaned into him and raked his arms prompting a foul call from referee Tony Brothers:
Ellis calmly sank all three freebies, setting the stage for overtime.
Hinrich, a 12 year-veteran known for his defensive acumen, has faced a huge amount of scrutiny in the interim. It’s warranted, of course; this was an awful mistake. Lost on some of those criticizing him is the strategic play that Hinrich was clearly trying to implement: Committing a foul on the floor so Ellis would be sent to the free throw line for two shots instead of getting off a game-tying three-point attempt.
It’s an increasingly common tactic in these situations, and the players clearly understood what Hinrich intended to do. Still, Dirk Nowitzki didn’t mince words in assessing the play. Kudos to Chicago’s reserve guard for being equally forthright, too.
Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas:
“In my 17 years, it was one of the dumber fouls I’ve ever seen,” Nowitzki said in a matter-of-fact tone. “You wait all the way until he dribbles to the 3-point line to grab him, so that’s obviously a tough one, tough play. I saw coach [Tom] Thibodeau was just shaking his head…”
“I waited too long. I messed it up,” Hinrich said. “It was a bonehead play. I know better than that. This one’s on me because I felt like we played a good game to that point. To get back to the point we were in a position to win. For them to tie it up on a play like that, it was a bad decision.”
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau took the blame in the locker room, but Hinrich remained steadfast in his culpability. He’s right, too:
“That was my fault,” Thibodeau said. “We wanted to take the foul, and I was not clear enough about how and where. Obviously, we wanted to take it in the backcourt; they were out of timeouts. It gets tricky when they get in the scoring area, if a guy is facing you. That was my fault.”
Hinrich wasn’t willing to let his coach take the blame for his boneheaded play.
“I’ve been around 12 years; I know better than that,” Hinrich said. “It was one of those things where it was just a bad play. … I know better than that. It’s on me. [I’ll] learn from it and move on.”
The margin between victory and defeat can be razor thin. There were tens of other Chicago errors that contributed to their loss, but Hinrich’s came when the spotlight shone brightest. Of the reasons the 33 year-old plays so many minutes for the Bulls is because he makes the proverbial “winning” plays – this mistake was out of character.
He knows it. Thibodeau knows it. His teammates know it. And even the Mavericks know it. Stuff happens. For Bulls fans, it’s already time to forgive and forget. Their team will need Hinrich in similar situations as the year goes on.
What do you think?
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