A bizarre anomaly mid-way through the fourth quarter of the double-overtime thriller between the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs might have swung on a ‘missed’ James Harden dunk.
We say ‘missed’ because there’s not really a better way to describe it.
Harden was wide open after getting a steal, slamming the ball through the hoop - but there was a twist.
The ball caught on the net on Harden’s way down, popping back up towards the rim and off the backboard.
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The confusion was immediate - the referees called basket interference on Harden, arguing it had bounced off the Rockets star.
Houston coach Mike D’Antoni was irate over the call and for good reason - the Spurs were in the midst of rallying from 22-points down, eventually forcing two overtime periods and a stunning victory.
Asked about the call after the game, D’Antoni was at a loss.
“I have no idea. I heard that they said the ball hit James and went back through, so it was a goaltend on James,” he told reporters.
“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.
“I said, ‘Well I challenge that’ - can’t do that.
“I don’t know how to answer your question. I’ve got nothing, I can’t tell you.”
Referees admit to botching the call
Soon after the game, referee crew chief James Capers admitted to reporters that the dunk should have counted.
But in a confusing twist, Capers said the Rockets were unable to review the basket interference call because the 30-second time limit on coaches challenges had expired.
Capers said D’Antoni and his staff had used that time arguing the call.
“James Harden goes in for a dunk and then the ball appears to us to pop back up through the net,” Capers told reporters.
Referee James Capers admits they missed the call on James Harden’s dunk, but the Rockets couldn’t challenge because they allowed 30-second window to pass while “protesting the call, trying to get clarification of it.” pic.twitter.com/RuqUzUgMlK— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) December 4, 2019
“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.
“It is a reviewable matter...while they were protesting the call, trying to get clarification of it, that window passed and they were not able to do it.”
Fans bemused by referees’ decision
NBA fans of all persuasions were left confused by the call, which most agreed was a basket for Harden.
While it seemed an obvious call for many, some fans still couldn’t help but make a few jokes at the former MVP’s expense.
Middle of the fourth quarter officials waive off a dunk by James Harden that replays show should have counted but that was not a reviewable play and the game eventually went into overtime in San Antonio. pic.twitter.com/mHNba6ROyz— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) December 4, 2019
NBA trying to explain why that James Harden dunk didn’t count tomorrow morning pic.twitter.com/lxpYtwFW3N— Shai Gilgod-Alexander (@Jhickness9) December 4, 2019
Shaqtin alert: After the ballboy with the broom scampered out of the way, James Harden’s breakaway dunk didn’t go down. Or maybe it did. Rockets are challenging, saying the ball bounced off Harden’s shoulder and went back up through the rim. Pretty funny regardless of result.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) December 4, 2019
This is the craziest "missed" dunk I've ever seen. Crazy, because James Harden didn't miss it. Refs missed the call. Rockets lost in OT. 😬pic.twitter.com/uNkD5ez32Z— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) December 4, 2019
Despite the controversial play, Harden went on to finish with another monster stat line of 50 points, nine rebounds and six assists - following up his 60-point explosion against Atlanta in stylish fashion.
Running mate Russell Westbrook added 19 points of his own, but the duo’s poor shooting arguably proved costly for the Rockets.
The two former MVPs combined for a lacklustre 18-68 from the field on the night.
San Antonio second year player Lonnie Walker had a breakout night, dropping in a team-high 28 points.