The ball went through the hoop. James Harden slammed it through, after all.
But the force of that dunk and the fickle net flung the ball back upwards in a blur of leather and twine, leading many observers — including the officials — to believe that Harden’s dunk had in fact caromed out.
In what wound up being a 135-133 double-overtime win for the San Antonio Spurs, that moment of confusion made all the difference to the Houston Rockets.
“They said that the ball hit James and went back through [the hoop], so it was goaltending on James, so I said, ‘I challenge that,’ ” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said to reporters, before the NBA’s pool report was released.
“I didn’t get a response. Another guy said that it wasn’t goaltending, it just went out of bounds on us. I said, ‘Well, I challenge that.’ They go, ‘Can’t do that.’ I don’t know. I didn’t get an explanation. I got nothin’.”
Crew chief James Capers said that upon reviewing the video after the game, the dunk should have counted. He added, however, that D’Antoni’s request for a review came too late.
“It is a reviewable matter, but you have a window of 30 seconds to challenge the play during the timeout that he had,” Capers said. “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.”
Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the Rockets are reportedly optimistic the NBA will either award them the win due to Houston outscoring San Antonio in regulation or that it will order the final 7 minutes, 50 seconds of the game to be replayed at a later date.
The botched call seemed to crush Houston’s momentum.
The sequence, which occurred with just under eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, became part of a Spurs rally from 22 points down. Harden finished with 50 points three nights after scoring 60 in a win over against the Atlanta Hawks, but was also called for a charging foul on his potential game-winning drive with 0.8 left in the second overtime.
Houston outscored San Antonio 7-2 in the final two minutes of overtime to force a second OT. Harden’s runner bounded off the backboard and rim as the first overtime ended.
With the loss, the Rockets fall to 13-7 and now sit in fifth place in the Western Conference.
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Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.