The Warriors and Rockets rematch is turning into a heated debate over an obscure NBA foul rule

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  • The Golden State Warriors beat the Houston Rockets in a wild and controversial Game 1.
  • At the center of the controversy was the Rockets feeling that the referees missed several fouls by the Warriors on the Rockets’ three-point shooters, violating a rule about “landing space” that was ushered in two years ago, in part, because of the Warriors.
  • According to a report, the Rockets were further aggravated because they had studied foul tendencies for a year and believe the Warriors get beneficial treatment from the referees.
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After Game 1 of the second round series between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, the biggest talking point is the referees.

The Warriors beat the Rockets, 104-100, in Game 1 of their rematch on Sunday that featured a controversial ending and plenty of finger-pointing.

The primary source of the gripes: the Rockets feeling the Warriors fouled them numerous times on three-point shots by getting underneath shooters as they landed.

The rule famously received attention in the 2017 playoffs, when Warriors center Zaza Pachulia stepped under Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Leonard rolled his ankle when he landed on Pachulia’s foot and missed the rest of the series, effectively ending the Spurs’ Finals hopes. The following September, the league instituted a rule to call flagrant or technical fouls on defenders who intentionally put their feet under shooters, not allowing the shooters to safely land.

In Game 1 the Warriors appeared to get under James Harden on several three-point attempts.

Chris Paul felt he was fouled, too.

But the biggest moment came at the end of the game. Trailing by three with less than 20 seconds left, the Rockets stole the ball from the Warriors, giving themselves the chance to tie the game. Harden tried one of his patented step-back threes, selling contact with Draymond Green, but no foul was called.

The Rockets turned the ball over on the offensive rebound, and the Warriors sealed the game.

After the game, the Rockets made their feelings known. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said the referees told him at halftime that they had missed four fouls on the Warriors.

“They missed four of them. That’s 12 fouls shots,” D’Antoni said. He added: “They’re trying to do the best that they can do.”

Harden told reporters that he wants to be officiated fairly, referring to the Leonard-Pachulia incident two years ago.

“Call the game how it’s supposed to be called, and that’s it,” Harden said. “And I’ll live with the results. But especially we all know what happened a few years back with Kawhi. That can change the entire series.”

Draymond Green was asked about Harden’s comments after Game 1 and mostly declined to comment. But he did say: “Gotta contest the shot. When you land 3 feet ahead of where you shoot the ball from, that really ain’t my issue,” seemingly referencing Harden moving forward on his shots in an attempt to draw contact.

Even others around the NBA weighed in on it.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey also responded to Cuban on Twitter. The 2006 comment appears to be a reference to not only when Morey took over the Rockets but to the 2006 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks, which featured controversial officiating that went in the Heat’s favour.

It goes deeper than just one game, however. According to The Athletic’s Sam Amick, the Rockets have studied officiating tendencies for nearly one year and have complained to the NBA that the Warriors are getting beneficial treatment from the referees.

According to Amick, the Rockets also believe that more experienced referees don’t call the landing space fouls as often as young referees. The alleged missed calls from a veteran crew only angered the Rockets more.

The officiating will become a major focal point of the series going forward. Harden and Paul will continue to try and draw contact, as it’s a big part of their games. The Warriors planned to crowd the Rockets’ three-point shooters, to contest the shots tightly.

Now the attention is on the referees. Will they call fouls in the Rockets’ favour? Will doing so force the Warriors to relax their defence, potentially giving the Rockets better looks from three-point range? Or will the referees continue not to call those fouls, believing the Rockets sold the contact? In a tight series, a few fouls calls could make a big difference.

This rematch already had the potential to get heated because of all that’s on the line. Now it has a chance to get uglier and more controversial than before.

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