What is a formal protest in the NBA? And why it could cost Golden State a win

Golden State Warriors, Stephen Curry, Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Golden State Warriors, Stephen Curry, Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The NBA is often known for its dramatic finishes, as was the case on March 23, 2023, when the Golden State Warriors beat the Dallas Mavericks 127-125. What’s different about the outcome of this game, however, is the controversy surrounding the refereeing.

As with every sport, refereeing can be a difficult job, particularly in the NBA, where calls are often subjective and happen in a split second. In rare cases, a call is so egregious that a do-over is requested, resulting in a formal protest. A formal protest is when a team believes that a call is incorrect enough to effectively change the outcome of a game and requests that a do-over be granted to rectify the mistake.

Why the Dallas Mavericks will file a formal protest.

During the Warriors and Mavericks game, the Mavericks had been granted possession ahead of an official timeout. However, after the timeout, the Warriors were instead given possession of the ball, causing confusion on the Mavs’ part and allowing Golden State to get an easy dunk near the end of the third quarter.

While there was still another quarter left to play, the Mavericks believe that the referees ultimately cost them the game. It’s clear that the referees made a mistake, but what is unclear is what will be done to resolve the issue, if anything.

Will a formal protest be successful?

Commissioner Adam Silver will have up to five days to rule on the formal protest once the Mavs officially submit it, and team owner Mark Cuban has indicated that he will after explaining the situation on Twitter.

ESPN’s Bobby Marks also tweeted an explanation of the Mavericks’ process and how the NBA would react.

Formal protests are unusual in and of themselves, and the NBA ruling in favor of the team is even more unusual. Therefore, the Mavericks face an uphill battle, but perhaps Silver will be compelled to act given the fact that it could affect playoff seeding, even the Mavericks’ chances of making the postseason.

Has this happened before?

In 2019, during a game between the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs, a similar situation occurred in which the Rockets protested a missed call. James Harden made a dunk, only for the basket not to be counted and possession to be awarded to the San Antonio Spurs during the third quarter of a game. The Spurs would go on to win the game in overtime, but the Rockets would go on to file a formal protest with the NBA. That formal protest was later denied by Silver.

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Overall, the Mavericks will soon file a formal protest with the NBA, and Silver will soon rule on it. That being said, there is little precedent for a do-over being granted.