NBA denies Knicks' protest despite league, ref admitting call was wrong

A call being wrong isn't enough for the NBA to grant a protest such as the Knicks'. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
A call being wrong isn't enough for the NBA to grant a protest such as the Knicks'. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) (Carmen Mandato via Getty Images)

It is a universally accepted fact that the officials got it wrong at the end of the game between the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets on Feb. 12.

The Knicks certainly thought the call was wrong. The crew chief admitted the call was wrong. On Wednesday, even the NBA recognized the call was wrong. But that was not enough to grant the Knicks their protest of the game.

The NBA announced Wednesday that it was denying the protest on the basis of the error being "an error in judgment by game officials," rather than "a misapplication of the official playing rules."

The call in question came in the final seconds of a tied game. A bad pass led to Rockets guard Aaron Holiday shooting a one-handed desperation heave from 3-point range as time expired, which Knicks star Jalen Brunson contested by flying in with a hand up.

Brunson appeared to make minimal contact, and Holiday missed. Brunson certainly didn't seem to affect the shot, and both Holiday and Brunson landed on their feet with no issue. The official still called Brunson for a foul, sending Holiday to the line, where he made two of three free throws.

Final score: Rockets, 105, Knicks 103.

The call in question:

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau was predictably irate over the call, while Brunson answered questions about the call after the game with only "Great call, next question." Crew chief Ed Malloy might have had the firmest technical criticism, though, while speaking with a pool reporter.

"After seeing it during postgame review, the offensive player was able to return to a normal playing position on the floor. The contact which occurred after the release of the ball therefore is incidental and marginal to the shot attempt and should not have been called."

The NBA concurred while announcing that it was denying the protest.

"The NBA today denied the New York Knicks’ protest of their 105-103 loss to the Houston Rockets on February 12, 2024.

"The Knicks protested the result of the game on the ground that a shooting foul was called incorrectly on the Knicks’ Jalen Brunson for making contact with the Rockets’ Aaron Holiday during a last-second shot attempt. Under the standard for NBA game protests, New York was required to demonstrate that there was a misapplication of the official playing rules, as opposed to an error in judgment by game officials. Because the foul call at issue reflected an error in judgment, New York did not demonstrate a misapplication of the playing rules, and the extraordinary remedy of upholding a game protest was not warranted."

If you're confused about what would constitute a misapplication of the rules, consider that the league's last granted protest came in 2008, when Shaquille O'Neal was said to have fouled out of a game despite having only five fouls. That suggests the NBA would care only about something like the refs saying Brunson's foul didn't warrant free throws despite being a shooting foul.

The count of granted protests remains at six. The day the next one is granted will be a fun one on social media.