© Eric Gay, STF / Associated Press
James Harden and the Rockets had plenty of questions for the referees in Tuesday's double-overtime loss to the Spurs.
TORONTO - The Rockets moved on, arriving in Toronto in time - barely - to see the sunrise on Wednesday. The loss to the Spurs, however, was not entirely behind them.
As the NBA began its customary investigation of events that were anything but typical, according to a person with knowledge of the process, the Rockets prepared a protest of their double-overtime loss in San Antonio, unsure if they will file it if necessary.
The Rockets have 48 hours after the game in which to file a protest and will wait for more feedback from the NBA before determining how they will proceed.
On Tuesday, on the way to losing a 22-point lead, a dunk by James Harden was disallowed after the ball worked its way through the net and around the front of the rim and nearly in again. The subsequent loose ball was ruled to have gone off Harden. The Rockets still led by 13 with 7:50 to play and were up by 16 shortly after before allowing the Spurs to come back and tie the game and eventually win in overtime.
Officials would not permit the Rockets to challenge the call. Crew chief James Capers later explained to a pool reporter that Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni did not signal for a challenge within the 30-second window required.
That is where things got complicated and could become part of a protest with no precedent in the first season with coaches' challenges.
After a few moments in which D'Antoni and assistant coach Matt Brase spoke with officials, the officials moved away to discuss the play with one another, exhausting the remainder of those 30 seconds. D'Antoni said after the game he was initially told that the ball hit Harden and went through the rim, making it offensive goaltending, and that he sought to challenge that. He was later told the shot missed and went out of bounds off Harden, and he said he sought to challenge that.
D'Antoni said after the game that even after another conversation with officials during a time out, he did not know what the officials had ruled, making it difficult to challenge a call when he not know what the call was.
"I didn't get an explanation," D'Antoni said. "I got nothing."
Video by KHOU-TV Houston
With time to view the video and consider a media question that was reviewed and granted, Capers did offer an explanation.
"Harden goes in for a dunk, and then the ball appears to us to pop back up through the net," Capers said to a pool reporter. "When that happens, that is basket interference. To have a successful field goal it must clear the net. We have since . 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, 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. They were asking later at the end of the timeout is it a reviewable matter, but it was too late."
The NBA would be unlikely to award the two points and consider the game a Rockets win in regulation. It could count the points and replay the final 7:50 of the fourth quarter.
There is precedent for replaying a portion of a game, with the NBA having the Hawks and Heat replay the final 51 seconds of a game in 2008 after Shaquille O'Neal was assessed a sixth foul that should have gone to a different Heat player. But that error was made at the scorers' table, rather than by officials.
The Rockets previously protested a game in 2017 when former Los Angeles Clippers guard Juwan Evans should have fouled out of a game with 3:10 remaining. His sixth foul was mistakenly given to Lou Williams. Evans twice drew offensive fouls in the closing minutes when he should have been out of the game.
The Rockets withdrew the protest weeks later when it became apparent that the league was not going to uphold the protest.
The Rockets on Tuesday blamed their shortcomings with the lead. D'Antoni said the Rockets lost focus even before the Rockets were not awarded points for the Harden dunk. Harden said the Rockets "stopped playing."
That could have cost the Rockets a win. They also could have used the two points they thought Harden had scored.
Whether that is the end of it remains to be determined.
Related slideshow: 2019-20 NBA season (Provided by imagn)