The Houston Rockets are officially protesting Tuesday's 135-133 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, sources told ESPN, emphasizing that James Harden's dunk not being counted as a basket was a misapplication of rules resulting in an incorrect score and not a judgment call by officials.
The deadline to file a protest is 48 hours after a game. Houston had been optimistic in the wake of the loss that the NBA office would take action without a protest being necessary. However, sources said the Rockets filed a protest to ensure that the NBA office will have to make a ruling on its ongoing investigation.
The Rockets' hope is that the final 7 minutes, 50 seconds of the game will be replayed with Houston up by 15 points. Sources said the Rockets have no expectation that the league office will award them a win based on Houston actually outscoring San Antonio in regulation, which was a possibility raised by a Rockets source in the wake of the loss.
Both teams have up to five days to provide relevant evidence. Commissioner Adam Silver has up to five days after receiving that evidence to issue a ruling.
Harden's breakaway dunk with 7:50 remaining would have given the Rockets a 104-89 lead. The ball whipped through the net and back over the rim before bouncing off, and the officiating crew mistakenly ruled that Harden missed the dunk and denied Houston coach Mike D'Antoni's attempt to challenge the call.
"When the play happened, Harden goes in for a dunk, and then the ball appears to us to pop back through the net," crew chief James Capers told a pool reporter. "When that happens, that is basket interference. To have a successful field goal, it must clear the net. We have since come in here and looked at the play. He dunked it so hard that the net carried it back over the rim a second time, so in fact it did clear the net and should have been a successful field goal.
"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."
The Rockets, according to sources, noted in their protest that a basket interference call was not made, contrary to Capers' postgame explanation. Houston, sources said, provided five points of supporting evidence: a basket interference signal was never given, the clock continued to run, the Spurs inbounded from the spot where the ball went out of bounds, referee Kevin Scott told the Rockets at the time and later in the game that it was a missed basket, and the official scorer scored it as a missed basket after initially awarding Houston two points.
D'Antoni, who spoke to the media before the pool report was released, had a different account of the referees' explanation immediately after the play.
"I have no idea," D'Antoni said. "I heard that they said the ball hit James and went back through, so it was a goaltend on James. I challenged that, and I didn't get a response. Then another guy said it wasn't a goaltend. It went out of bounds on us. And I said, 'Well, I challenge that.' Can't do that. You know, I don't know, to answer your question. I've got nothing. I can't tell you."
The most recent example of teams replaying part of a game happened on March 8, 2008, between the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks. In the game on Dec. 19, the Hawks unofficially won 117-111 in overtime, but the official scorer incorrectly ruled that Shaquille O'Neal fouled out, so the teams had to replay the final 51.9 seconds when they met next.