Dime Drop: Blown call costs Harden's Rockets and raises questions about the value of technology and reviews in officiating

Houston Rockets v Brooklyn Nets

On Tuesday night the San Antonio Spurs hosted their bitter rivals, the Houston Rockets, in a double-overtime thriller. But it may never have even got to first overtime and the game will be marred by an inexplicable error on the part of the referees.

With seven minutes and fifty seconds to go in the quarter, Harden went up for a breakaway dunk, only to see the ball apparently carom off the rim and back into play. The call on the floor, offensive goaltending. The wrong call, as the ball passed through the hoop before some physics bending velocity, angle and spin sent it back up and over the basket. 

On the first watch, I admittedly found it confusing. But I wasn’t blessed with the same viewing angle as Referee Kevin Scott who, trailing Harden from the right-hand side, seemingly had an ideal look at the basket. In fact, by the time the ball is pinging back upwards, Scott is adjacent to the top of the restricted area.

The Rockets claimed to have challenged the play immediately, the referee crew deny this was within the mandated 30-second window for an appeal to be lodged. This escalated to the Rockets submitting an appeal to the league requesting the game be awarded to them (as they technically outscored the Spurs) or for the remaining 7:50 of the game to be replayed. Absolute madness.

Inexplicably, no one from within the league office had the sense to make a call and get the error overturned within the game. For something so obvious and potentially impactful it seems illogical that it couldn’t have been and wasn’t addressed whilst the fourth quarter resumed. We see games continue whilst the validity of a foot-on-the-line three is established. So why not this?

There is a duty of care, on the NBA’s part, to get this right. One of many reasons is to ensure their gambling data is “clean”. The pursuit of this cleanliness is one of the reasons why player heights, for the want of a better description, became “regulated” this season. Let’s be real, is a Kevin Durant being 6-9 or 6-10 more or less important than ensuring that the outcome of a game isn’t marred by a made shot not being counted?

But where does this end? There will never be a 100% effective solution as there is no way to remove the exposure to human error from the process of refereeing (at least not with current technology…).

Further objectifying the regulation of the game, whilst desirable in its intent, runs the risk of dehumanising the sport. If the subjective aspects of the game are reduced and removed, it becomes increasingly difficult to be emotionally invested in a team and the heart of the sport is lost.

The missed call was a horrific mistake which the league needs to take ownership of, but it would also be unfair if either of Houston’s two proposed solutions were implemented. It’s done, let's move on and learn.

But for those saying “it’s just one game”, remember that as recently as the 2017-18 season, only two games separated the third and sixth seeds in the Western Conference. One game makes a difference.

You can hear more from Mike weekly on the Double Clutch Podcast, the UK’s leading NBA podcast.

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