The Rockets were up 102-89 in the fourth quarter when a dunk by James Harden went through the net and rolled back off the rim, initially giving the impression he had missed. The officials didn't count the basket.
According to MacMahon, the Rockets were hopeful the NBA would have made an official ruling without a protest but that the protest would force the league's hand. Houston is aiming to either be awarded a win or have the game restart with 7:50 left on the clock in the fourth quarter.
Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters after the game there was confusion about how the play was called and whether he could use his challenge:
"They said that the ball hit James and went back through [the hoop], so it was goaltending on James, so I said, 'I challenge that.'
"I didn't get a response. Another guy said that it wasn't goaltending, it just went out of bounds on us. I said, 'Well, I challenge that.' They go, 'Can't do that.' I don't know. I didn't get an explanation. I got nothin'."
Crew chief James Capers said after the game that the play was reviewable but that D'Antoni waited too long to indicate he wanted to challenge the call.
The Rockets' frustration is understandable, and the situation differs from typical officiating controversies because it was an objective, straightforward mistake. And given the circumstances, going back and giving Houston two points wouldn't have been too different from changing a three-pointer to a two-pointer or vice versa.
Having said that, one could argue the Rockets shouldn't get bailed out when they failed to protect a 13-point lead with just under eight minutes remaining. Missing Harden's dunk didn't single-handedly cause Houston to lose the game.
The NBA hasn't replayed part of a game since 2008, so the Rockets might be facing long odds of getting what they want from the league.