With 15.7 seconds in regulation and the game tied at 99-99, Bulls guard Dwyane Wade stole the ball from Kings forward Garrett Temple and raced down the floor. Wade appeared to have an open dunk but missed it, and the Kings took the ball and ran back down the floor with a three-on-one fast break.
But referee Michael Smith blew his whistle under the basket and called a foul on Cousins, who had been trailing the play. Replays showed Cousins lightly putting his hand on Wade’s back, but not in a manner that would have altered his dunk attempt.
Cousins and the rest of the Kings’ bench were incensed at the call.
After the game ended, Cousins, who has a long history of losing his cool toward officials and opponents, used a different tactic in his remarks to the assembled media.
“I think they made the absolute right call,” said Cousins, who finished with 42 points, going 16-for-28 from the field, while adding 14 rebounds and three assists. “Incredible job by the referee crew tonight. I don’t have a complaint in the world. I think they should get more recognition on how well they ref these games. I don’t think they get the credit they deserve. So kudos to them and I applaud them.”
Then Cousins started clapping as he sat at his locker.
When a reporter continued the sarcastic tone of Cousins’ comments by noting that officials seem to make “a lot of right calls” regarding Cousins, the All-Star kept going.
“All the time,” Cousins said. “They controlled the game perfectly tonight. I don’t have a complaint. Absolute great job.”
Cousins’ comments came after a longer than usual cooling-off period after the game. Reporters waited longer than normal to get into the Kings’ locker room. Cousins angrily gestured toward officials on his way off the floor and was seen by several bystanders tossing garbage cans on the way back to the Kings’ locker room.
The carnage after Cousins headed to the locker room in frustration. pic.twitter.com/iQTNOewu7n
— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) January 22, 2017
Cousins said he never got an explanation from officials for the call.
“When they went to review it, they said they didn’t see it. They were just checking for the clock,” Cousins said, referring to a timing issue the officials checked in the immediate aftermath of the play. “I don’t really understand how that’s possible. Like I said, they made the right call, so it’s all good.”
Kings head coach Dave Joerger didn’t want to dive deeply into what the Kings thought was a missed call. When asked if he thought Cousins fouled Wade, Joerger was brief in his remarks.
“I’ve seen the video so …” Joerger said.
When asked what he saw from his vantage point during the play, Joerger noted that the Kings had a chance to take the lead after Wade’s missed dunk.
“I saw us with the ball and a three-on-one,” Joerger said. “A live ball.”
For his part, Wade chalked the call up to the breaks of basketball.
“I got the steal and put pressure on the ball,” Wade said. “I probably took off a little too far. And the refs seen him close to me and thought he probably nudged me a little bit. But hey, sometimes you get [the calls], sometimes you don’t. So I was able to go to the line and make one and put us up one.”
The frustration within the Kings’ locker room was palpable after the game.
“It’s deflating,” Kings guard Darren Collison said. “It’s hurtful. We felt like we played a great game throughout the whole game, we played hard. We played together as a team. And the way the game ended, the way it [was taken] away from us, it hurts. But it doesn’t always come down to that one call, obviously. But to end that way, it definitely hurts.”
The controversy over the call overshadowed the fact that Cousins had an unbelievable game.
“He’s incredible,” Joerger said. “He keeps getting better and better. He’s hard to guard. Guys love him, we love him, and he’s made major strides in a lot of areas. And I think he still has room in his game to keep adding things. He hits a couple 3s and gets to the rim, and he can post up a little bit, he’s rebounding. And his maturity continues to improve.”