Sam Amick of The Athletic cited sources who said "the Rockets have been making a data-driven case with the NBA for quite some time that these Super Team Warriors are getting a major officiating advantage in these heavy-hitter matchups."
Amick explained Houston sought out the play-by-play officiating reports for all seven of the games in the 2018 Western Conference Finals between the two teams after it lost a chance to play in the NBA Finals by a single win. These reports break down whether the league believes officials made the correct calls throughout a game in much the same way the Last Two Minute reports do for crunch time.
"The Rockets, according to the sources, had a double-digit point deficit in six of the seven games (and a small edge in Game 2)," Amick wrote. "In all, sources say, they were harmed to the tune of 93 points. Game Seven was the worst, the research showed, with the league-issued report indicating that they should have had 18 more points. More specifically, two of the 27 consecutive missed three-pointers that did them in were ruled to have been missed foul calls."
That research-driven data set the backdrop for Game 1 of the second-round series between the two squads, which Golden State won 104-100 in an emotional tilt.
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The Rockets, in particular, were quick to complain to officials Zach Zarba, Josh Tiven and Courtney Kirkland. Chris Paul was ejected in the final seconds when he picked up his second technical, head coach Mike D'Antoni was issued a technical and James Harden made his frustration known after the loss.
General manager Daryl Morey even hinted at the Rockets' behind-the-scenes work when it comes to the officials and the Warriors with a tweet directed at Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban:
"I just want a fair chance," Harden told reporters after the game. "We all know what happened a couple years back with Kawhi. Call the game the way it's supposed to be called, and we'll live with the results."
Kawhi Leonard suffered an injury in Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference Finals as a member of the San Antonio Spurs when Golden State big man Zaza Pachulia undercut him on a long two-pointer. Leonard landed on him without enough room to come down and missed the rest of the series.
Harden suggested Draymond Green did the same thing on his potential game-tying three-pointer in the closing seconds.
That landing space on three-pointers was such an issue was notable because Amick explained the Rockets believe experienced officials are less likely to call such a play. Zarba (16th season), Tiven (ninth season) and Kirkland (19th season) are all veteran officials who, in Houston's interpretation of its collected data, wouldn't be as apt to call landing-space fouls as younger refs.
D'Antoni said officials told him they missed four separate calls on three-point attempts in Sunday's game:
Even Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert noticed his team wasn't permitted to close out on Harden as hard during the first round of the playoffs:
Despite all of Houston's concerns, it still took two more free throws (29) than the Warriors, who were playing at home. Perhaps that gap could be even bigger in Tuesday's Game 2 if the officials are paying particular attention to Golden State closing hard on Harden's shots.