BOSTON -- Houston Rockets star James Harden, who was whistled for two offensive fouls in the final 7.3 seconds of Thursday night's loss to the Boston Celtics, vented afterward about a rare two-referee crew and the late-game calls against him.
Referee Mark Lindsay hurt his back during pregame warm-ups, leaving Tony Brothers and Gediminas Petraitis to work the game between two of the league's best teams.
"First of all, I want to know, how do you only have two officials on a national TV game? That's the first question," said Harden, whose first offensive foul allowed Boston to take its only lead of the game with 3.7 seconds to play. The second prevented Houston from having more than a last-second heave after Boston rallied from 26 points down for a 99-98 triumph at TD Garden.
Jayson Tatum's dunk pulled Boston within one point with 7.3 seconds to play. Harden was then whistled for the first offensive foul when Marcus Smart hit the ground as he tried to prevent the All-Star guard from shaking free to take the inbounds pass.
"A lot of grabbing, a lot of holding," Harden said. "I mean, how else am I supposed to get open? Guy has two arms wrapped around my whole body."
Added Harden: "It's just tough. You can't have two officials in a professional game. There's a lot of no-calls that need to be called, because that changes the dynamic of the game."
The referees repeatedly drew the ire of Boston's sideline -- and the fans -- with coach Brad Stevens and forward Marcus Morris picking up technical fouls for arguing a third-quarter call as the Celtics tried to rally.
Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving said the refs have a tough job in that situation.
Irving on missing official: 'Both teams had to play within that realm'
Kyrie Irving explains that missing a third official made a difference against the Rockets but emphasized to his teammates to use it to their advantage.
"We're 10 athletes on the floor at one time. A lot of space. [Two referees is] going to make a difference," said Irving, who couldn't remember playing with just two refs before in his career. "That's why we have three refs. Both teams had to play within that realm, and at times it went in their favor. At times it went in our favor. The best way to combat that is just to adjust, and I thought both teams did a great job of that.
"Obviously, both teams wished some calls could have gone either way. But it did make a difference having just two refs. When I saw both of them out there at the half court [before the game], I was like, 'There's just two of y'all tonight?' They were like, 'There's just two. Somebody's hurt.' I was like, 'Where's the backup?' I asked a legit question. I was like, 'Where's the backup?' Because I thought usually they have four refs, so there's one for backup or someone is watching in the back or something. I don't know the dynamic.
"But once the ref was hurt, I was like, 'Both of you guys are gonna do this?' I was like, 'All right, well, we're adjusting.' I told my teammates, 'We only have two refs out here, so use that to your advantage.'"
Harden gave credit to Boston for producing the league's biggest comeback this season.
"They're a good team, obviously. We knew they were gonna make shots, they were gonna make a run, especially at home," Harden said. "We just didn't execute when we needed to."
Still, Harden couldn't mask his displeasure: "Then you got fast-break points, no-calls, turnovers, whatever the case may be. But it's a professional game, national TV. Can't happen."
Asked again about the offensive-foul calls, Harden replied, "Right, yeah, I know," then walked away from reporters.
ESPN's Jeff Goodman and Stefano Fusaro contributed to this report.