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NBA referees miss last-second foul call, Pelicans lose to Nuggets, 114-112

Zion Williamson was hacked by Nikola Jokic on a potentially game-deciding play — and there was no whistle!

New Orleans Pelicans v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Let’s be clear: The New Orleans Pelicans didn’t deserve to leave with a victory over the Denver Nuggets Wednesday evening.

However, Zion Williamson should have been awarded two free throws after Nikola Jokic clearly hit him across the arm with 2.2 seconds left in a two-point contest.

Stan Van Gundy said to postgame media afterwards that the referees told him it was a clean block. Even though the head coach had used a challenge earlier in the game, it wouldn’t have made a difference if he had it still sitting in his back pocket — a non-call cannot be challenged according to the rules.

And so, the Pelicans are leaving Denver with a 114-112 loss.

It’s unclear what Williamson needs to do to get more deserving whistles, but Van Gundy mentioned that Zion isn’t one to excessively sell calls to referees and that unfortunately, “strength gets punished in this league.”

“He doesn’t flop,” Van Gundy said. “And he doesn’t yell and scream at the referees. He gets to the free-throw line a lot. I’ve had referees say to me, ‘How many free throws has he shot?’ It’s a stupid question. It doesn’t matter.”

It is a bloody stupid question. There shouldn’t be a running tab kept on the amount of freebies to begin with, but isn’t it in the rules to blow the whistle when warranted? Why does so much subjectivity exist, eh Adam Silver?

All too often, we’ve witnessed Zion get hit multiple times within games — hard — and the infractions go unpunished.

To top it off, Pelicans fans have witnessed several times this season other volume free throw shooters get sent to the line in last-second scenarios.

“We fouled Westbrook at the end of the game in Washington and they made the call,” Van Gundy said. “We fouled Lillard at the end of the game in Portland and they made the call. So clearly there are situations in which they’ll make that call at the end of games.”

In postgame, Zion took the high road. Like he always does.

“I’ve got to earn my respect. I’m only in Year 2. I’ve got to get a couple more years under my belt and hopefully things change with that.”

Have to love the 20-year-old’s perspective, but I call bullshit. League referees are sending every jump shooter in the league to the line for the smallest amounts of contact, but bigs who play the game the right way are having their free throws regulated.

Clean it up, NBA.

Annnnnd exhale.

As mentioned at the outset of the article, the Pelicans really had little business in being able to add a W in the win column with how they played for much of the first half. They came out incredibly flat in the first quarter. They committed 15 turnovers before halftime. The Nuggets destroyed the Pelicans in points in the paint and tallied a lot more fast break scores.

However, that tune changed immensely in the second half. New Orleans showed great resolve in climbing out of the hole they dug. From right out of intermission to the waning seconds of the game, they battled like their season was on the line.

With 52.8 seconds left in regulation, Denver led 110-101. But the Pels never quit. They canned three triples and Brandon Ingram had a thunderous dunk after a Lonzo Ball steal during this final stretch.

It would have been fun to watch Zion shoot a couple of free throws under the pressure of a game on the line.


Ingram finished with 27 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four 3s and Williamson had 21 points and two steals. But the biggest standout in the boxscore was Ball, recording his first triple-double of the season: 16 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. Zo also knocked down four threes, swiped four steals and had two blocks. Hell of a night from Zo.

On Denver’s side of the ball, Nikola Jokic was unstoppable and things became even more difficult for New Orleans defense when Steven Adams wasn’t able to continue after halftime due to a nagging right first MTP sprain.

The favorite for the next MVP scored 16 points in the third quarter en route to a final line of 32 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, three steals, three blocks — should have been two — and two 3s.

Michael Porter Jr. was nearly as potent as Denver’s superstar: 28 points, eight rebounds and three 3s. And Facundo Campazzo shouldn’t be overlooked. He made two big threes down the stretch to finish with 19 points and 10 assists.

Despite the emotionally and physically draining game, the Pelicans will have to do it all over again in less than 24 hours. Tomorrow, there’s a date in Oklahoma City against the Thunder.

Real quick, one more: SIGH!!!

Okay, I’m done. The Pelicans hopes of squeezing into the play-in tournament are probably too.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.