DALLAS -- Antoine Wright had a simple objective. In a game with 61 fouls already called, he was trying to commit another.
Wright bumped Carmelo Anthony once, hard enough to knock him off stride. But not enough for a foul call.
So he jostled Anthony again. Still no call -- and now Wright was out of position, leaving Anthony a clear look at the basket. His three-pointer went right through with a second left, giving the Denver Nuggets a 106-105 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, and a 3-0 series lead that has been insurmountable in NBA history.
"I have hit a lot of big shots in my short career, but never in a situation like this," Anthony said. "It was a thin line between 2-1 and 3-0."
It's even thinner than he thinks. About two hours after the game, the league office announced that Wright was right. In a brief statement, NBA president Joel Litvin said, "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."
The Nuggets can consider themselves lucky to be close enough to get saved by a controversial finish.
They missed 15 of their first 17 shots and made only two longer than five feet the entire first half. They finished with as many fouls as field goals and their previously dominant centre tandem of Nene and Chris Andersen struggled, Nene missing his first eight shots and "Birdman" fouling out in only 11 minutes.
Yet Denver never trailed by more than six. The Mavericks' inability to pull away -- take your pick when because the Nuggets never really strung together many baskets -- was as damaging as the non-call against Wright.
"The game didn't come down to that last play," Dallas guard Jason Kidd said. "You've got to make plays down the stretch, and we just didn't do that."
The Mavericks led 105-101 with 31 seconds left, then saw Anthony zip in for a quick dunk. Dirk Nowitzki missed a 13-footer with about eight seconds left and missed a high-arching shot from the corner at the buzzer.
"This is about as tough of a loss as I've been a part of in my 11 years," said Nowitzki, who overcame a difficult week off the court and a third-quarter leg bruise to score 33 points and grab 16 rebounds. "That's a game we've got to have."
During the timeout before Anthony's winning shot, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle reminded his players they had a foul to give and told them to use it. Wright's attempt was good enough for the league office, but not for the crew. The official closest to the play was Mark Wunderlich, the same official who did not call a foul on Los Angeles' Derek Fisher at the end of Game 4 of last year's Western Conference finals.
"What do you want me to do ... take him out and then I get a flagrant two late in the game?" Wright said. "I made a play on the ball like I was told in the huddle and the call wasn't made."
Nuggets coach George Karl thought it was a great non-call.
"It seemed like he fumbled the ball," Karl said.
When time ran out, the crowd fell silent, the Nuggets began to celebrate and the Mavericks began to gripe.
Josh Howard was among several clusters of Dallas players who appeared to be exchanging words with Denver players and staff. Owner Mark Cuban brushed by a cameraman on his way to the scene, then blew off steam behind the scorer's table, his face reddening.
Cuban later sent an email to The Associated Press reacting to the league admitting the refs goofed: "It's a shame the game had to come down to this, but that's the way it goes in the NBA sometimes."
"Officiating has to be a science, not an art," Carlisle said. "If I sit here and belabour this it's not going to be good for our league. It's one of those times where it's really an unfortunate thing."
The Nuggets hold a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series for the first time in franchise history and will go for the sweep Monday night.
All sorts of things are in their favour, from the fact no NBA team up 3-0 has ever lost the series to their 7-0 record against the Mavericks this season. Denver also is the only team to win in Dallas since mid-February; the Nuggets are 2-0 in that span, everyone else 0-17.
Chauncey Billups showed his championship pedigree by scoring 16 of his 32 points in the third quarter, when Denver was really struggling for baskets. Anthony finished with 31 points, but needed 24 shots. He missed his first seven.
"We knew it would be a hard-fought game, four-quarter game," Billups said. "We just stayed with it. We came up with a great win."
The Mavericks were hoping to feed off their crowd, just like the Nuggets did in the first two games at their place, but all the fouls kept the fans from getting into the action. The game was so blah that the public-address announcer reminded everyone at halftime that the team needed them to get more involved.
Notes: After the game, the Nuggets said F Linas Kleiza broke the tip of his right thumb, calling it a non-basketball-related injury. ... According to a police report, Wright had US$120,000 in jewelry stolen from his condo Friday. ... There was a pre-game moment of silence in memory of Chuck Daly, the Hall of Fame coach who died earlier Saturday.