Kobe Bryant plays clutch “defense” on Ricky Rubio as Lakers beat Timberwolves

We will have a full recap up tomorrow at some point, but for tonight, I feel like this play warrants discussion. As Lakers and Timberwolves game wound down tonight, Kobe Bryant clutchly missed a free throw with three seconds left, giving the Wolves a chance to tie. Rubio grabbed the rebound and flew up the court, ready to toss up one final attempt at the buzzer. Then the above happened. Here’s a freeze frame.

Screen shot 2013-03-27 at 11.37.08 PM

The forearm is part of the ball?

Minnesota’s Fox Sports North announcers were not shy in voicing their displeasure, and neither were Ricks Rubio and Adelman. It’s not hard to see why; there was a lot of contact, and the contact clearly affected Rubio’s shot. The likelihood of Rubio hitting either the 3-pointer or the three free throws should be completely immaterial. If it was a foul, it should have been called as such. You can now bet on NBA Playoffs, odds are already available at Top Bet.

Now to be fair, officials are not given the option to go back and look if plays were fouls or not. This may have been difficult to see in real time (I’m being very generous here). Further, games are very rarely decided by the officiating, and this game is no different. Certainly, a bad no-call in the final seconds affected the outcome, but there’s a difference between a bad no-call affecting and deciding the game. The Lakers shot considerably better than the Wolves both from the 3-point line and from the field in general. If Minnesota shot or defended better, they could have won without the benefit of a questionable call.

But that doesn’t change the fact that there is something very wrong with a system in which a referee does not feel comfortable making what was clearly the right call as time expires. Certainly, Kobe is a superstar, and he is one of the most popular players in the league, but his status doesn’t shouldn’t elevate him above the common rules of the game (rules like “You can’t swat a guy across his arms to prevent him from getting a real look at a potentially game-tying shot”).

Rubio probably wouldn’t have made that shot (which, incidentally, makes Kobe’s alleged foul a really stupid basketball play). He probably wouldn’t have made his three free throws to send the game into overtime. But he deserved the chance, and for a franchise that hasn’t seen a victory against the Lakers in 22 tries, this leaves a particularly bitter taste behind.

Oh, and Kobe had this to say, per ESPN.

“That’s not a foul. They ain’t calling that s—,” Bryant said. “I don’t think I got him. That’s a tough call to make. I just put my hand in. It’s not like I went out and smacked him across the arm or anything like that. It is what it is.”

Would Bryant have been “surprised” if a foul was called?

“No. We would have gone into overtime and won the game. It’s as simple as that.”

Allow me to make one addendum: They ain’t calling that s— on YOU, Kobe. You and maybe two other players won’t get called for that. I hope you realize how lucky that makes you.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.