ATLANTA – He’s human. He said he made a mistake.
The bottom line on referee Bennett Salvatore’s inadvertent whistle at a potentially pivotal point in the Chicago Bulls’ 100-88 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night was that grown-ups involved in or watching the game will understand. Those somewhere to the left on the maturity scale might struggle a bit more with it.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau — “Bennett’s a good official. He said he made a mistake. That’s what he did. He’s human” — qualifies among the former. The play, in theory, might have cost Chicago the chance to win Game 4 of its Eastern Conference semifinal and take a 3-1 lead back home for Game 5 Tuesday. But it didn’t cause the Bulls to lose. Neither Thibodeau nor his players were going to alibi to that extent.
The Bulls already trailed 90-84 coming out of a timeout with 2:33 when Derrick Rose went up from behind the 3-point line, looking for contact. He appeared to get it from Jamal Crawford, the leaping defender, but Salvatore made it clear out on the court that he did not see a foul and had not intended to blow his whistle. So a jump ball was required and Josh Smith, jumping against Joakim Noah, tipped the ball to Jeff Teague. Moments later, it was 92-84 on Al Horford’s slam from Smith.
Afterward, Salvatore explained what happened. He also ‘fessed up to getting the call wrong.
“I blew my whistle. I was positive it was not a foul,” the veteran ref told a pool reporter. “I blew my whistle by accident, which is an inadvertent whistle. That’s why I disallowed it.
“Having watched the replay, it was a foul. I made a mistake. I was wrong.”
Salvatore was under no obligation to provide that added info, but he did. That level of honesty, that degree of transparency, should be disarming to NBA fans. It surely is to players and coaches, who stack up human errors left and right every night they’re on the court. Thibodeau was mature about it and so was Rose — and in truth, they both knew the Bulls had done plenty to earn the defeat Sunday apart from that single play.
“That’s basketball,” Rose said. “Hopefully next time we’ll get that call. But that’s how it goes sometimes.”
See? Grown-up. Human error, met with human understanding.