The NBA announced today that Commissioner Adam Silver has denied the Houston Rockets protest of their 135-133 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 3, 2019, following receipt by the league office of submissions from both teams and the completion of its investigation.
In the protest, the Rockets argued that the officials misapplied the playing rules by failing to grant a Coach’s Challenge in connection with James Harden’s fourth quarter dunk, and that this error had a clear impact on the outcome of the game by depriving the team of two points. While agreeing that the referees misapplied the rules, Commissioner Silver determined that the Rockets had sufficient time to overcome the error during the remainder of the fourth quarter and two subsequent overtime periods and thus the extraordinary remedy of granting a game protest was not warranted.
In addition, the league announced today that it has disciplined all three referees from the game for misapplying the Coach’s Challenge rule.
With 7:50 remaining in the fourth quarter and the score 102-89 in favor of Houston, Harden stole the ball and converted an uncontested dunk. The ball was dunked with such force that, as it cleared the net, the ball was propelled around the basket and upward, creating an initial appearance that it was not a successful field goal. Houston then called a timeout, and the officiating crew conferenced to discuss the play.
After deliberation, the crew informed the Houston coaching staff that a basket interference violation had been called on Harden, and Houston asked for a Coach’s Challenge. This request was denied by the officials because more than 30 seconds had elapsed from the start of the timeout. But the 30-second time limit for Coach’s Challenges only applies when the challenge arises during a mandatory timeout or a timeout called by the opposing team. Because Houston called the timeout in this case, it was entitled to challenge the basket interference call upon being informed of it by the game officials.
If the Coach’s Challenge requested by Houston had been properly granted, instant replay would have shown that Harden’s dunk was a successful field goal.
As a follow-up to the NBA’s investigation of this matter, the NBA will work with the Competition Committee to develop additional procedures to help prevent the situation with Harden’s made basket from occurring again.
It should be news to no one that the officials misapplied the rules in this situation and deserve the blame. However, it should be equally unsurprising that the league is not going to grant the Rockets’ wish to either apply that basket and give them the win or make the final 7:50 of the game be replayed, when the Rockets were already up by 13 points and had been up by as much as 22 points.
As mentioned above, the NBA feels the Rockets had at plenty of time to “recover” from the call (or in this case get over it and maintain their lead) that overturning or replaying it is unnecessary. So the Spurs keep their win, Lonnie Walker IV keeps his career-night, and now we can all move on.
(But don’t let that stop you from listening to the latest episode of Superfluous Poppycock. Even knowing the outcome of the protest now, it’s still a fun episode with plenty of important takeaways.)