Billups hit the go-ahead free throw with six-tenths of a second left and Denver beat Chicago 90-89 on Tuesday night after a potential winning jumper by Brad Miller was overturned following a lengthy replay review.
"As soon as I saw the flight of the ball, I knew it was good," Billups said. "Then, I was sitting and laughing. Not so much about the shot, but looking at their reaction. They were dancing and jumping around like they had just made the Sweet 16. The longer it took, the better I felt. It was a great ending."
And a nerve-racking one.
Billups was fouled by Kirk Hinrich on a drive and then intentionally missed the second free throw after making the first to break the tie, figuring the Bulls would need a "miraculous" shot. He didn't count on this: Joakim Noah grabbing the rebound with three-tenths of a second remaining, and the Bulls nearly pulling it off.
After a timeout, Miller caught the inbounds pass from Hinrich and, in one motion, buried a jumper from the top of the key. The crowd went wild. So did the Bulls.
"It was crazy," said Miller, who had two points in 14 minutes. "I was just trying to win a game and that was a lot of fun."
It didn't last.
After about a 10-minute review, the officials ruled he did not get the shot off in time, and the Nuggets snapped a two-game losing streak.
"I thought it was good when I first saw it," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. "That is irrelevant. The refs have to make the call. My understanding -- 0.3 is enough time to catch and shoot. But I guess the ball was on his fingertips, probably. The refs made the call after looking at it about 20 times."
And the longer they took, the more confident Nuggets coach George Karl became that they would overturn the shot.
"Fortunately I just read the rule a couple of days ago that with three-tenths of a second you can't pivot or turn," said Karl, who got his 939th win to move past Red Auberbach into eighth place on the NBA's all-time list. "It doesn't count. The longer it took, I thought the more it was in our favor. We've talked about missing that second free throw. It's a perfect situation with five-tenths, it's imperfect at six or seven."
Both teams struggled from the outside, with the Bulls hitting 4 of 18 3-pointers and the Nuggets 5 of 16.
There was never really a big run in the game.
It was 87-83 after Anthony tracked down a loose ball following a broken play by the Bulls and Martin dunked with 1:56 left.
Hinrich buried a jumper to make it a two-point game and then picked up a loose ball after a missed 3 by John Salmons, keeping the possession alive. Rose then followed a blocked layup by Noah with one of his own to tie it at 87 with 33.9 seconds left, and he answered Anthony's jumper with two free throws with 10.4 seconds remaining, helping set up the wild finish.
"I thought it was a fact that you can't shoot with 0.3," Deng said. "So that's why I was kind of like, I mean, if it counted then they've got to change a lot of things because I thought it was 0.4. That's what I was worried about. But on the tape, I kind of saw it behind the ref. It's a tough decision. It could go either way. I wish it went our way, but it didn't."
Denver's J.R. Smith scored five points in his first game after serving a seven-game suspension. He said he wants to go by his given name, Earl III, although the Nuggets plan to keep calling him J.R. ... Del Negro said there are no plans to bring in outside help even though the Bulls are down to 10 healthy players. ... Del Negro said "everything has gone well" with F Tyrus Thomas, who is out for at least a month with a broken left forearm. "It's just a matter of getting him on some cardio program so he can stay in the best condition as you can in this situation," Del Negro said. "But it's going to be awhile."