MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Everyone in the Timberwolves locker room on Wednesday night believed Kobe Bryant got away with a foul that allowed the Los Angeles Lakers to hold on to a much-needed victory in Minnesota.
On Thursday, the NBA agreed with them: The league informed the Timberwolves that the referee crew should have called Bryant for a foul on a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.
"Video review by the league office confirmed that Kobe Bryant fouled Rubio while Rubio was in his shooting motion," the league said on its website. "Rubio should have been awarded three free throws."
It won't change the outcome of the game, a 120-117 victory for the Lakers, who have beaten the Timberwolves 22 straight times and are clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. It also may do little to assuage a feeling in the Timberwolves organization that they are not getting the same respect from the officials that more star-laden teams receive.
But it will at least give Ricky Rubio, coach Rick Adelman and the rest of a frustrated team a little bit of solace that their disappointment was justified this time.
"We have to earn the respect," Rubio said. "But I don't understand how things go sometimes. We just want to play basketball, play hard as we can and do all the things. Sometimes it's not fair because we give 100 percent and sometimes we can't control things. But we have to improve things that we can control."
Bryant, who scored 31 points, stepped to the line for his second free throw with 3.4 seconds remaining and a chance to ice the game. He struck a pose after releasing the shot, which resulted in him being caught out of position when the ball bounced off the rim and into Rubio's hands.
The point guard zipped by Bryant and darted up the court, rising up for a 28-foot runner. He released it just before the buzzer sounded and Bryant came from behind to try to block the shot. Replays showed that Bryant hit Rubio's right wrist. When no foul was called, an exasperated Rubio protested, but referee Jason Phillips dismissed him.
Adelman was asked after the game if he thought Rubio was fouled.
"What do you think?" the coach said. "I mean c'mon. The guy should've never gone and tried to block the shot. But he did. What are you going to say?"
Bryant scoffed at the notion that he fouled Rubio.
"That's not a foul," he said. "You don't call that (stuff)."
The play has renewed the theory in some corners that superstar players are treated differently by the officials. The league and referees have long disputed this notion, which Wolves forward Chase Budinger was asked about after the game.
"When you're playing against the Lakers, it's always going to be tough," Budinger said when asked about star treatment. "When you're playing against Kobe and Dwight and big superstars like that, you're going to have your hands full with them."
The Wolves were also seething about a technical foul given to J.J. Barea earlier in the fourth quarter and several calls earlier in the game.
"It was tough all night long," Adelman said. "Really tough."
Earlier this month, Barea was ejected from a game for a Flagrant 2 foul against Miami Heat guard Ray Allen. The NBA later downgraded the foul to a Flagrant 1, saying Barea should not have been ejected.
"We've been through it all year, dealing with stuff like that," Barea said. "It didn't go our way. We've just got to learn from it and keep fighting for the next one."
The Lakers are no stranger to apologies from the NBA themselves. On March 14, the league said that referees should have called a foul on Atlanta's Dahntay Jones because he "did not give (Bryant) the opportunity to land cleanly back on the floor." Bryant suffered a badly sprained left ankle on the play, an injury he continues to play through to help the Lakers chase a playoff berth.
Bryant, for one, didn't see what all the fuss was about this time.
If a foul was called, "we'd have went into overtime and won the game," he said. "Simple as that."
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