A referee blunder and a last-gasp three-pointer from Carmelo Antony gave the Denver Nuggets a controversial one-point victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday and a 3-0 lead in their Western Conference semifinal.
In the East, LeBron James scored 47 points to power the Cleveland Cavaliers to an easy 97-82 win over the Atlanta Hawks, who face a mammoth task of overturning a 0-3 deficit in their best-of-seven series.
In Dallas, the Mavericks had a two-point lead and a foul to give when Denver inbounded the ball with less than eight seconds left. Antoine Wright was clearly trying to foul Anthony, and bumped him twice.
But the whistle never blew and Anthony swished a three-pointer with a second left to give the Nuggets a 106-105 victory.
After reviewing the game, the National Basketball Association agreed the officials missed the foul.
"At the end of the Dallas-Denver game this evening, the officials missed an intentional foul committed by Antoine Wright on Carmelo Anthony, just prior to Anthony's three-point basket," Joel Litvin, the NBA president for league and basketball operations, said in a statement on the league's Website.
Nonetheless, the result stood.
A day after Game 4 of the Western Conference finals last year, the NBA said a foul should have been called against Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers on the final possession. That could have given San Antonio a chance to win the game and get even in the series.
"I think this is about as tough a loss as I've been a part of in my 11 years in the league," Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, who had 33 points and 16 rebounds, told reporters.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said the officials clearly missed Wright fouling Anthony.
"In a game where there are 61 fouls called, an official decides not to call a foul when we were trying to take a foul," Carlisle said.
However, the Mavericks' Jason Kidd said the non-call did not cost Dallas the game.
"The game didn't come down to that last play," Kidd told The Dallas Morning News.
"We tried to take a foul and didn't get that. You've got to make plays down the stretch and we didn't do that."
Nuggets coach George Karl said he agreed with the call on the floor. "I didn't see a foul," Karl said in a post-game news conference.
Anthony had five words to describe the game-winning three-pointer. "Biggest shot of my life," he said.
The Nuggets forward scored the game's final five points and finished with 31 as he and Chauncey Billups, who had 32, led Denver to within one win of the conference final. Game 4 will be in Dallas tomorrow.
In Atlanta, James had 12 rebounds and eight assists to help Cleveland win its sixth consecutive playoff game.
"I gave it all I had, I knew how important this game was," James said afterward.
"The playoffs are what I live for and what I work out for. This is the biggest stage in the world and I want to perform the best I can."
Joe Johnson had 21 points and Josh Smith 18 for Atlanta, which hosts Game 4 tomorrow.
(Agencies via Shanghai Daily May 11, 2009)