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The Rockets’ handling of their legitimate gripe about the Spurs win is peak D’Antoni

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A Harden dunk was not counted. We empathize, but it’s not enough reason to overturn the outcome of a game.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Last night’s double-OT victory over the Rockets was perhaps the Spurs most thrilling regular season game since last season’s double-OT victory over the Thunder in January.

Lonnie Walker IV’s brilliant, breakout performance of 28 points on 4-7 from three — including 19 points in the fourth quarter to lead the comeback from 22 down — may finally allow him to break into the rotation, and overall the Spurs showed a level of heart in the crazy fourth and OT periods that has been lacking all season. They were aggressive on both ends of the court, forcing steals, contesting the Rockets’ shooters outside, protecting the rim, taking charges, pushing the ball in transition, and not hesitating to let it fly.

However, the craziest play of the game without a doubt came with 7:50 left in regulation, with the Rockets up 13, and a James Harden breakaway dunk was inexplicably not counted because the refs didn’t see the ball go in after it defied the laws of physics and bounced back around the rim after going through.

I’m just as confused as anyone as to why this play wasn’t reviewed. The same thing happened to the Spurs a couple of years ago when Manu Ginobili made a three against the Knicks and the refs missed it, but it was reviewed and ultimately counted. What rule allowed Manu’s shot to be reviewed but not Harden’s is beyond me.

Another question circulating is why Mike D’Antoni didn’t or couldn’t use his coach’s challenge on the play. Crew chief James Capers said after the game that it was a reviewable call, but it took D’Antoni more than the allotted 30 seconds to challenge it:

“As to could the play have been reviewed, it is a reviewable matter, but you have a window of 30 seconds to challenge the play during that timeout that he had and while they were protesting the call, trying to get clarification of it, that window passed. So therefore, it elapsed, and they were not able to do it.”

I admit I didn’t know this rule was a thing, and it’s possible D’Antoni didn’t either, which is another testament to how messed up things currently are. The fact that they spent that entire time arguing about the call but he didn’t say “I challenge” soon enough is absurd.

To be clear: I hate the direction video review and the coach’s challenge are going. What can and cannot be reviewed is confusing and makes no sense. I empathize with the Rockets because the obscurity of the rule is likely what messed them up in this case. It’s just as crazy as a team being unable challenge for a review on a goaltend that wasn’t called. Why not allow the review team in Secaucus, NJ to review it on their own time and ring in to the officials at the next dead ball, kind of like how the refs can go back and review if a shot was a two or three at any point in the game? A rule like that would have worked in both cases and cleared up any confusion.

So I get it: the coach’s challenge and video review in general are extremely confusing for both the teams and refs and need revisiting, but that doesn’t justify the Rockets’ petty behavior after the fact. They have reportedly filed a complaint with the league under the hopes that they will either count Harden’s basket — therefore changing the outcome of the game — or force the final 7:50 of the game to be replayed on a later date.

You read that right. Ignore the fact that this would be completely unprecedented for the league to do (they haven’t done it for game-deciding bad calls on a final possession, including in much more important situations like say, the playoffs!) and just focus on this one incident. Is that one play really the entire reason the Rockets gave up a 22-point lead to a team that has struggled mightily all season, and mostly at the hands of an inexperienced 20-year old playing in only his 32nd NBA game?

The Rockets claim the missed call caused them to lose focus after that, but we’re talking about a championship contender with an MVP who has been to the playoffs plenty of times. If one missed call is going to cause them to blow what was a 13-point lead by then and never recover from it in 18 minutes of action (8 min regulation plus 10 in OT), maybe they’re overrated and shouldn’t be taken so seriously.

Plus, if “losing focus” is a reason to overturn a game, can the Spurs go back to the final moments of the first period in Detroit, when the refs missed a blatant Derrick Rose out-of-bounds call, resulting a three for the Pistons? They never looked ”focused” after that, in my opinion, so by the Rockets standards, the Spurs should get to replay those final three quarters instead of losing by 34 points.

Another thing that makes this demand so crazy is the precedent it sets. If the Rockets can claim two lost points with 7:50 left affected the outcome of the game to the point that the league should overturn it — and they would have to prove that it did in fact do just that — then why can’t the Spurs file the same grievance over the Rockets getting a basket at the end of the third quarter that shouldn’t have counted because an over-and-back violation was committed? Or the fact that Harden scored two free throws after catching the ball out of bounds in the first OT? Without either of those non-calls, maybe neither OT period even happens and the Spurs win outright. If nothing else — and when playing the Rockets’ game of “all other things being equal” for the rest of the way — the over-and-back nullifies the missed dunk, and we’re back at square one with both teams tied at the end of regulation and heading into overtime.

If you want to go even further down this rabbit hole the Rockets are digging, the Spurs actually have a legit gripe that at least three of their losses this season could have ended differently had the refs called the final two minutes correctly. How different would their current outlook be if they were 11-11 instead of 8-14 ? For starters, they’d be in the 8th seed instead of 12th and only two games out of 6th, but they didn’t file grievances with the league to get those outcomes overturned even though they are much more desperate for wins at the moment than the Rockets and, if we really want to start reaching, could potentially miss the playoffs all because of those three early-season games and absolutely nothing else.

The reality is the Rockets know nothing will come of this; they’re just trying to make a statement to the refs in a way only they can. It’s one thing to inquire with the league about what happened, clear up confusion and make sure it never happens to anyone else ever again. But instead of drawing sympathy, they’re making themselves look petty and foolish, and not for the first time. D’Antoni has never been one to take blame for losses (he still can’t accept that the Spurs beat the Suns in 2007), and there will always be the time Rockets GM Daryl Morey sent an audit to the league after the Warriors beat them in the 2018 Western Conference Finals, claiming the refs cost them a championship. (Forget the fact that they still would have actually needed to play the Finals before that could happen.)

Last night’s game was a thriller with a rare good outcome for the Spurs. Hopefully it will the turning point we’re all waiting for to get them back on track. In the meantime, it’s time for the Rockets to turn their attention to their next game. If they really want to exact revenge on the court, they can do it on December 16 when the Spurs visit Houston for the first time this season. With the way the Spurs have played on the road over the last 2+ seasons, it shouldn’t be too difficult.


This was your extended Marilyn Dubinski rant of the day. Have a good one!