What’s the Houston Rockets’ angle here?
What’s the best-case scenario ruling?
These are two questions stuck in my head, just three days removed from the controversy surrounding a James Harden dunk that didn’t count, the result of simple human error from the on-court officials.
This fourth-quarter omission eventually (and perhaps indirectly) led to the Rockets falling to the Spurs in double overtime (135-133), and subsequently resulted in the Houston franchise filing an official protest to the NBA, according to reports.
(For those who haven’t seen the play, Harden dunked on an easy breakaway; but while following through on the jam, the ball had the live-action appearance of going back through the hoop. However, instant replays — for TV audiences only — clearly disputed that notion.)
The Rockets are apparently seeking the following:
**An official recognition of the referees’ mistake.
**An acknowledgment that Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni should have been allowed to challenge the missed call, via league-sanctioned Instant Replay. (Apparently, the coach didn’t formally request a review in the 30-second window after Harden’s discounted dunk.)
**The NBA to support replaying the final 7:50 of the game — immediately after Harden’s dunk — with the Rockets leading 104-89.
The last one is a real head-scratcher. On-court officials miss calls all the time. It’s not an excuse … just the tacit admission that we’re all human.
Take LeBron James’ amazing non-call from the other night against Utah: Anyone with a modicum of basketball knowledge would identify this sleepy play as traveling; and yet, the on-court referees missed it entirely.
Or what about this detailed montage of blown calls covering the NBA’s modern era? It’s an absurd highlight reel of the officials’ lowest moments; and yet, we can now chuckle at these isolated bouts of absent-mindedness.
In other words, mistakes happen. Shake … it … off.
A LITTLE HISTORY LESSON
According to USA TODAY Sports, 26 in-game protests were officially filed by NBA teams from 1978 to 2014, with the league commissioner (Larry O’Bren or David Stern) actually siding with two disputes:
The NBA sanctioned a redo of a Hawks-Heat game, covering the final 51.9 seconds.
The reason for the replay? Miami center Shaquille O’Neal had been wrongfully credited with his sixth foul … forcing him out of the game.
Later that season, Atlanta and Miami played out the final 51.9 seconds once again, but the result didn’t change (Hawks win).
The officials for a Spurs-Lakers game incorrectly called for a mid-court jump ball after a double lane violation, stemming from a Norm Nixon free throw (second of two attempts).
Soon after, Los Angeles (down two in the waning seconds) corralled the tip at halfcourt, scored the game-tying layup and eventually proferred a 137-132 victory over San Antonio.
The Spurs’ protest was well-received by the NBA, which dictated the double-lane violation (involving both clubs) should have been offsetting, thus prompting a free throw do-over from the Lakers’ Nixon.
And for the subsequent replaying of the game, the Spurs held on to their late advantage, posting a 117-114 win.
Citing the above games, there’s certainly precedent for the NBA calling for a do-over. However, both reversals occurred in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
In Harden’s disputed case, there was 7:50 left on the clock, and Houston possessed a double-digit-point lead.
Does the league really want to open up this can of worms for games that aren’t in the final minute?
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
If the Rockets had not squandered their sizable lead in the final minutes, there would never have been a protest.
And even with a 14-7 overall record, instead of 15-6, it’s safe to assume Houston (led by all-world talents Harden and Russell Westbrook) will finish with 50-plus wins and easily qualify for the Western Conference playoffs.
But what if that presumption goes horribly wrong? What if the Rockets lose Harden or Westbrook for significant time, due to injury, and miss the postseason by one game?
What’s more, what if the Rockets are denied home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, due to the controversial Spurs loss?
The NBA might have serious remorse down the road, if the Rockets are part of the above conundrums by season’s end.
The best course of action here: Short of replaying the final 7:50 of the Spurs game, the NBA should a) formally apologize to the Rockets, b) show public empathy for the controversial defeat and then c) discreetly order up something that happens in every major sport … immediately after a wayward decision by the referees/officials.
Restore harmony and balance to the sports universe … by issuing a make-up call in the Rockets’ favor in the very-near future.
And preferably during a high-profile game.