DALLAS (AP)—Antoine Wright(notes) had a simple objective. In a game with 61 fouls already called, he was trying to commit another.
Wright bumped Carmelo Anthony(notes) once, hard enough to knock him off stride. But not enough for a foul call.
So he jostled Anthony again. Still no call—and now Wright was out of position, leaving Anthony a clear look at the basket. His 3-pointer went right through with a second left, giving the Denver Nuggets a 106-105 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, and a 3-0 series lead that has been insurmountable in NBA history.
“I have hit a lot of big shots in my short career, but never in a situation like this,” Anthony said. “It was a thin line between 2-1 and 3-0.”
It’s even thinner than he thinks. About two hours after the game, the league office announced that Wright was right. In a brief statement, NBA president Joel Litvin said, “At the end of the Dallas-Denver game this evening, the officials missed an intentional foul committed by Antoine Wright on Carmelo Anthony, just prior to Anthony’s 3-point basket.”
The Nuggets can consider themselves lucky to be close enough to get saved by a controversial finish.
They missed 15 of their first 17 shots and made only two longer than 5 feet the entire first half. They finished with as many fouls as field goals and their center tandem of Nene and Chris Andersen(notes) struggled, Nene missing his first eight shots and “Birdman” fouling out in only 11 minutes.
Yet Denver never trailed by more than six. The Mavericks’ inability to pull away was as damaging as the non-call against Wright.
“The game didn’t come down to that last play,” Dallas guard Jason Kidd(notes) said. “You’ve got to make plays down the stretch, and we just didn’t do that.”
The Mavericks led 105-101 with 31 seconds left, then saw Anthony zip in for a quick dunk. Dirk Nowitzki(notes) missed a 13-footer with about 8 seconds left and missed a high-arching shot at the buzzer.
“This is about as tough of a loss as I’ve been a part of in my 11 years,” said Nowitzki, who overcame a difficult week off the court and a third-quarter leg bruise to score 33 points and grab 16 rebounds. “That’s a game we’ve got to have.”
During the timeout before Anthony’s winning shot, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle reminded his players they had a foul to give and told them to use it. Wright’s attempt was good enough for the league office, but not for the crew. The official closest to the play was Mark Wunderlich, the same official who did not call a foul on Los Angeles’ Derek Fisher(notes) at the end of Game 4 of last year’s Western Conference finals.
“What do you want me to do … take him out and then I get a flagrant two late in the game?” Wright said. “I made a play on the ball like I was told in the huddle and the call wasn’t made.”
Nuggets coach George Karl thought it was a great non-call.
“It seemed like he fumbled the ball,” Karl said.
When time ran out, the crowd fell silent, the Nuggets began to celebrate and the Mavericks began to gripe.
Josh Howard(notes) was among several clusters of Dallas players who appeared to be exchanging words with Denver players and staff. Owner Mark Cuban brushed by a cameraman on his way to the scene, then blew off steam behind the scorer’s table, his face reddening.
Cuban later sent an e-mail to The Associated Press reacting to the league admitting the refs goofed: “It’s a shame the game had to come down to this, but that’s the way it goes in the NBA sometimes.”
The Nuggets are up 3-0 in a best-of-seven series for the first time. They’ll go for the sweep Monday night.
All sorts of things are in their favor, from the fact no NBA team up 3-0 has ever lost the series to a 7-0 record against the Mavericks this season. Denver also is the only team to win in Dallas since mid-February; the Nuggets are 2-0 in that span, everyone else 0-17.
“We knew it would be a hard-fought game, four-quarter game,” said Chauncey Billups(notes), who scored 16 of his 32 points in the third quarter, when Denver was really struggling for baskets. “We just stayed with it. We came up with a great win.”
Anthony finished with 31 points, but needed 24 shots. He missed his first seven.
The Mavericks were hoping to feed off their crowd, just like the Nuggets did in the first two games at their place, but all the fouls kept the fans from getting into the action. The game was so blah that the public-address announcer reminded everyone at halftime that the team needed them to get more involved.
Jason Terry(notes) had 17 points, but was 5-of-12. Brandon Bass(notes) had 16 points but 12 came on free throws. Howard returned from an ankle injury that sidelined him early in Game 2 and scored 14.