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Report: Rockets told NBA that officiating cost them 2018 championship, $20M revenue

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors - Game One

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 28: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets complains over a foul call on him against the Golden State Warriors to referee Josh Tiven #58 during Game One of the Second Round of the 2019 NBA Western Conference Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on April 28, 2019 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

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The Rockets are waging information warfare.

After Houston’s Game 1 loss to the Warriors – a game with plenty of officiating controversy – a study the Rockets conducted into their games against Golden State leaked. The result: Based on the NBA’s own review of calls, referees cost Houston 93 points – including 18 points in Game 7 – during the Western Conference finals.

How did Houston calculate those numbers? How significant was the effect?

Zach Lowe and Rachel Nichols of ESPN:
“Referees likely changed the NBA champion,” says the memo, addressed to Byron Spruell, the NBA’s president of league operations. “There can no be no worse result for the NBA.”

In their memo -- which, again, the Rockets did not end up sending because they communicated its message in person instead -- Houston recommended adding a fourth on-court referee, and that the league make full-game officiating reports available to every team for every game. They also claim a trip to the Finals would have netted at least $20 million in additional revenue.

The league provided Houston with what is essentially a full-game version for Game 7 of the last two-minute report it releases after close games. The report lists incorrect calls; fouls and violations that should have been called but weren’t; fouls and violations that would only have been visible, according to the league, with enhanced video review; and uncalled “potential infractions” where the league cannot come to a definitive conclusion on whether a foul was merited.

The Rockets appear to have included all such instances in the report, including those that benefited the Warriors.

Give Houston credit for suggesting solutions, not just whining. But there is a woe-is-me attitude that trickles through the organization from emphasizing a report like this. The Rockets might think they’re working told giving themselves a competitive advantage (or eliminating Golden State’s). More likely, Houston is just instilling a mindset that detracts from the focus necessary to win at this level.

I’m also not sure how much we should trust this analysis.

It seems the Rockets determined the expected value of possessions if calls were made it correctly then compared it to the actual points scored on those possessions, which is fine. But why count “potential infractions” where the league couldn’t make a definitive determination? What would the results have been without including those? I’d be shocked if they didn’t make Houston look like a bigger victim.

This methodology also leads to some uncomfortable results. In one example, James Harden got away with a possible infraction, an uncalled shooting foul on Kevon Looney. Without a whistle, the Warriors got an offensive rebound, and Kevin Durant made a 3-pointer. The Rockets said a correct call would have produced an expected value of one Golden State point (based on Looney’s free-throw percentage and two attempts). But because the Warriors instead scored three points on the possession, Houston claimed the missed call gave Golden State two extra points.

In other words, the Rockets claimed they were harmed by getting away with a foul!

Remember, Houston’s goal is helping Houston – not improving officiating. Everything the Rockets leak like this should be met with skepticism.