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When is a dunk not a dunk? When officials think they see something that didn’t happen

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Another game, another missed call from a group of officials that has the sports world in a tizzy.

On Tuesday night in San Antonio, the officiating crew working the NBA game between the Spurs and Houston Rockets missed scoring an obvious James Harden dunk during the Rockets 135-133 double-overtime loss.

Do the math and you’ll understand why the Rockets are pissed and looking for restitution.

Apparently, the Rockets want one of two things from the league, neither of which they seem likely to receive. They would like the league to reward them the victory –  the Rockets would have won in regulation had the dunk counted – or just replay the final 7:50 seconds of the fourth quarter at some time in the future.

Of course, despite the horrible call, the Rockets still have only themselves to blame. After the missed basket, San Antonio went of a 26-13 run to force overtime. The Rockets had led by as many as 22 points in the fourth quarter.

“A little bit, but that’s our fault,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni. “We should have ended it in regulation, gone home and we’d be fine. Now we’re more tired and played a lot of minutes. We lose the game and now we go to Toronto and it affects a couple of games. We just lost our focus. I don’t know, but down the stretch, we just didn’t do anything to win the game.

“We just quit playing defense. We quit getting back, we turned it over silly and didn’t get back. They got hot, made shots and we just didn’t do anything to combat it.”

Here’s what happened: Harden scored on a thunderous breakaway dunk with 7:50 to play to give the Rockets a 104-89 lead. The problem was the force of the dunk somehow caused the ball to rip down through the nylon and immediately back up and over the rim before it bounced off.

The officiating crew not only misread the play, they denied the request of D’Antoni 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.”

Prior to hearing what the officiating crew had to say, D’Antoni was asked what he through of the sequence.

“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.”

According to ESPN, there is a precedent for the league to replay a portion of a game. It was one played on March 8, 2008, between the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks.

Earlier in the season, the Hawks defeated the Heat 117-111 in overtime, but the official scorer incorrectly ruled that Miami’s Shaquille O’Neal fouled out with 51.9 seconds left in the game.

The league decided to have Miami and Atlanta replay the final 51.9 seconds before the teams’ next scheduled game, and the Hawks ultimately won 114-111.

It all marred another big scoring game from Harden. But you could say he was also responsible for the loss.

Harden took 38 shots – 20 from three-point range – and missed 27 of them. But he still ended with 50 points because he set an NBA record for the most free throws attempted in a regular-season game without a miss (24).

“S— happens,” Russell Westbrook told ESPN after the game. “Plain and simple.”