James Harden's dunk should have counted, officials admit -- but Rockets still blew 22-point lead

The Houston Rockets were running away from the San Antonio Spurs Tuesday night, leading by as many as 22 points. Then Spurs second-year guard Lonnie Walker started going nuts, James Harden got a clear dunk taken away from him by the officials, and San Antonio wound up coming all the way back to beat the Rockets, 135-133, in double overtime. 

Wait, what about that Harden dunk?

It happened with the Rockets leading by 13 with just under eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Harden picked off a pass and went in for a casual breakaway dunk, only the ball, somehow, went through the net then swung back up over the front of the rim, which was enough to dupe the officials into a no-basket ruling. Have a look:

You can watch that play a hundred times, and all hundred times you will see the ball clearly go through the net. What happens is the ball stays stuck in the net, and as the net swings up, it effectively slingshots the ball back up over the front of the rim. This is clearly a good basket, which, as you can see in the tweet below, crew chief James Capers admitted after the game. 

That basket, you know, sort of mattered. Again, the game went into overtime. Obviously two more points for the Rockets, from a pure mathematical standpoint, breaks that tie. Per ESPN's Tim McMahon, the Rockets are optimistic that the league will take action as it pertains to the missed call, either retroactively awarding the win to Houston or ordering that the final 7:50 of game time be replayed. 

The league ruling to simply give the win to Houston seems highly unlikely, as does going back and replaying seven minutes of a game at some point later in the season. You can't recreate circumstances. And there's no way you can guarantee Houston would've won that game had that basket counted. 

Time and score is everything in a basketball game. If the Spurs would've been down two more points, they might have played certain possessions differently, taken different shots, etc. There's no doubt a two-point greater cushion would've benefitted Houston, but letting a 22-point lead melt away to a 7-14 Spurs team can't be boiled down to one missed call. 

First, give the Spurs credit. Specifically, give Lonnie Walker IV credit. The Spurs' second-year guard -- who is apparently going to force Gregg Popovich to start playing him big minutes, consistently, if it's the last thing he does -- finished with a career-high 28 points while scoring 19 in the fourth quarter. 

After hitting a corner 3-pointer to cut Houston's lead to six with less than a minute to play in regulation, Walker drilled this 28-footer to send the game to overtime. 

Then Walker hit another three to open the initial overtime, where the Spurs grew their lead to as many as five points. But Houston came back, sent it to a second overtime, where the Rockets then held a three-point lead with under two minutes to play. Bottom line, both teams had multiple chances to win this game, and the Spurs simply got it done. 

Russell Westbrook going 7-for-30 didn't exactly help Houston. 

Nor did the Rockets shooting 15-for-51 from three as a team. 

Ultimately, DeMar DeRozan hit a pair of free throws to put San Antonio up one with 3.3 second to play. Houston called timeout, had the ball on the sideline, got it to Harden with a head of steam to the basket ... and then this happened: 

That's DeRozan. That's a charge. That's the ballgame. 

This was a wild, back-and-forth game. Harden broke an NBA record for the most made free-throws without a miss, going 24-for-24 from the line en route to 50 points (ho-hum), and had one of the most bizarre calls I've seen in a while go against him. It wasn't the reason Houston lost, but like those awful shooting numbers for Westbrook and the Rockets, it surely didn't help. 

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