Isaiah Thomas: Jimmy Butler, Bulls Won Because of ‘Horrible Call’ on Marcus Smart

Bryan Brandom
(Photo: Getty Images)

The Boston Celtics played the Chicago Bulls to a one-point advantage through 47 minutes and 59 seconds on Thursday.

But who deserved to win in that final second depends entirely on how you feel about foul calls in the closing moments of NBA games. 

If you ask the officials on hand, it went to the Bulls when Jimmy Butler pulled up for a potential game-winner, defended by Celtics guard Marcus Smart. Smart was whistled for a foul, and Butler hit both free throws for a 104-103 victory.

Replays appear to show Smart just barely making contact with Butler's shooting elbow as the Bulls wing elevates.

Letter of the law, that is a foul. But because it came in the contest's closing seconds, when NBA refs tend to swallow their whistles, the Celtics are understandably upset.

"When Jimmy shot the ball I heard him scream, 'No foul?'" Smart said of the deciding play. "And as soon as he said that, the whistle blew, and I looked and I saw [the referee] raise his hand for the foul."

Isaiah Thomas, who tied Butler with a game-high 29 points, called it a "horrible call" by referee Zach Zarba.

"We won this game," the point guard said. "We had it won. A great defensive stop by Marcus Smart, and the referee called a horrible call. That was bad."

Butler, unsurprisingly, agreed with the official's assessment.

"A foul's a foul," Butler said after the game. "He hit my elbow. I don't care what nobody says. I think I'm making it if he don't alter it like that. … People are going to say, 'Oh, he didn't foul him.' But he did. So at the end of the day they made the right call."

"I'm one of the best defenders in this league," Smart said. "I played great defense right there—I know I did. I moved my feet, I did everything right, my head was up. I got punished for playing good D I guess."

At least one Bull was willing to admit his team benefitted from the unpredictability of NBA officials.

"Tonight we got lucky," said big man Taj Gibson. "That's a talented team over there. We're going to enjoy this one."


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