The Houston Rockets are reportedly hoping the NBA overturns the San Antonio Spurs’ 135-133 double-overtime victory Tuesday. Referees mistakenly did not count a James Harden-made dunk in the fourth quarter.
According to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon ,
[The Rockets] are hopeful the league office will either award the victory to Houston due to the Rockets outscoring the Spurs in regulation or order that the final 7 minutes, 50 seconds be replayed at a later date.
While the Rockets are rightfully miffed about the play in question, the NBA would open a Pandora’s box by awarding them a victory because of one blown call.
Early in the fourth quarter, Harden soared in for a breakaway dunk, which would have given the Rockets a 15-point lead. However, the net whipped the ball back up onto the rim, and it clanged off the side of the basket.
After the game, crew chief James Capers explained to pool reporter Mike Monroe of The Athletic why Harden’s dunk didn’t count and whether it was a reviewable play.
The TL;DR version: The refs thought Harden’s dunk was basket interference at first glance and ruled it off accordingly. Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni had a 30-second window in which he could have challenged the call, but he was attempting to get clarification and didn’t do so in time.
However, D’Antoni presented a different perspective to reporters:
On Wednesday, MacMahon reported the Rockets will “likely file an official protest” regarding Harden’s dunk “to ensure that the NBA office will have to make a ruling.”
The Rockets’ frustration with the blown call is entirely justified, as it had a material impact on the outcome of the game. However, the NBA would be going down a slippery slope by either awarding them a victory or deciding that the final 7:50 must be replayed.
Even after the blown call, the Rockets had a 13-point lead against what was then a 7-14 team. In fact, Harden drilled a triple on the Rockets’ next trip down the floor to push the lead to 105-89 with 7:20 left. They even had an eight-point lead with 1:12 left before Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV scored eight quick points to tie the game at 115-115.
The Rockets can’t definitively prove that the game would have played out exactly the same had the refs made the correct call on Harden’s dunk. If they do officially protest the game, the Spurs would assuredly be able to find calls that wrongly went against them, too.
Besides, the referees didn’t force Harden to shoot 11-of-38 on the night. They didn’t make Russell Westbrook shoot 7-of-30, either. The Rockets had two overtime periods in which they could have overcome the one blown call, but they failed to do so.
If the NBA does overturn this result, any team that fell victim to a blown call in a close game would have an equally valid gripe. Should the NBA retroactively award the Philadelphia 76ers a victory over the Denver Nuggets because referees incorrectly called an offensive foul on Joel Embiid with 0.9 seconds left in a one-point game?
Should the Utah Jazz be allowed to protest their 121-96 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday because the referees missed an egregious LeBron James travel in the first quarter?
The league would open the door to all sorts of contested results by either awarding the Rockets a victory over the Spurs or ordering the final 7:50 of regulation to be replayed.
The Rockets’ history of complaining about officiating shouldn’t work against them here. The referees clearly erred in their ruling with regard to Harden’s dunk. But since they didn’t fix the error in real time, the precedent the league would set by overturning this result would do more harm than good.