With Portland leading 121-120 and less than 15 seconds remaining in overtime, Howard and Blazers reserve big man Joel Freeland became entangled as they battled for position following a James Harden jumper. The two players were essentially clutching each other, and Freeland wrapped his left arm around Howard's back, seemingly inhibiting Howard's movement.
The referees assessed the foul to Howard, which marked his sixth of the game and required an automatic disqualification. Freeland was also awarded two foul shots, and he split the pair to give Portland its final two-point victory margin.
“After video review by the league office, we have determined that the officials were incorrect in assessing a foul to the Rockets’ Dwight Howard with 10.8 seconds remaining in overtime," NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn said in a statement. "The foul should have been called on the Blazers’ Joel Freeland and Howard should have been awarded two free throws.”
Had Howard been awarded the foul shots, he would have had the chance to tie the game or put Houston up by one with less than 11 seconds remaining in overtime. Howard was 9-for-17 from the stripe on Sunday.
There were a number of contentious calls throughout the game. In addition to Howard, Rockets guard Patrick Beverley, Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge and Blazers center Robin Lopez all fouled out of the game. Howard, Beverley and Lopez also each received a technical foul.
The NBA has now admitted two late-game officiating blunders during the first two days of action. On Sunday, Thorn announced that the referees had missed a Draymond Green foul of Chris Paul in the closing seconds of the Warriors' Game 1 victory over the Clippers in Los Angeles on Saturday. Portland, the West's No. 5 seed, leads the series 1-0 over Houston, the West's No. 4 seed. Game 2 is set for Houston on Wednesday.