After jumping out to a 62-38 halftime lead and leading by as many as 26 points at one point, the Rockets appeared to be in total control against the Celtics during a game on Thursday night. But Boston rebounded to outscore Houston 61-36 in the second half to win the game 99-98 in the final seconds, and after it was all over, Rockets star James Harden was not happy with the way things played out.
Harden was whistled for two offensive fouls in the final 7.3 seconds of the game, and he believed it was due in large part to the fact that the game was played with just two referees as opposed to the usual three. Referee Mark Lindsay injured his back during his pregame warmup routine and was sent to the sidelines, leaving referees Tony Brothers and Gediminas Petraitis to work the game by themselves. And after the game ended, Harden told reporters he thought the unorthodox two-man team played a big part in the way the game was played.
"Well, first of all, I’m wondering how do you only have two officials on a national TV game?" Harden asked, suggesting the NBA screwed things up. "That’s the first question."
Harden seemed to take specific issue with the first offensive foul he picked up. He was whistled for it with 7.3 seconds left after Celtics forward Marcus Smart fell to the floor while guarding Harden on an inbounds play. Harden said he didn’t think he did anything wrong on that play.
"A lot of grabbing, a lot of holding," he said. "I mean, how else am I supposed to get open? Gotta ask, with two arms wrapped around my body."
Harden later continued to complain about how there were only two referees officiating the game. "Like I said, it’s just tough," he said. "You can’t have two officials in a professional game. There’s a lot of no-calls that need to be called, because that changes the dynamic of the game."
For what it’s worth, the Celtics were likely in agreement with Harden for most of the game. Even though they ultimately benefited from a pair of offensive foul calls against Harden, Boston players and fans were all over Brothers and Petraitis for the majority of the game. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens even picked up a rare technical foul.
But Kyrie Irving spoke about the ref situation after the contest and astutely pointed out that, while only playing with two referees did make a difference in the way the game was called, both teams had to play with the same disadvantage.
"We’re 10 athletes on the floor at one time," Irving said. "A lot of space. [Two referees is] going to make a difference. That’s why we have three refs. Both teams had to play within that realm, and at times it went in their favor. At times, it went in our favor. Best way to combat that is just to adjust, and I thought both teams did a great job of that. Obviously, both teams wished some calls could have gone either way. But it didn’t make a difference having just two refs."
In the end, Harden did give credit to the Celtics for making their massive comeback. Whether there were two refs or 10 refs, he couldn’t take that away from them. But he maintained that the NBA made a mistake by not having a better plan in place for the refereeing prior to the game.
"It’s a professional game, national TV," Harden said of the NBA failing to have a fourth referee at the game to replace Lindsay. "Can’t happen."
The Rockets will travel to Washington, D.C. next to take on the Wizards on Friday night while the Celtics will stay home for a game against the Nets on Sunday.