HOUSTON — The Knicks were hosed and even the NBA admitted it.
A phantom foul on a shot that had no chance of going in turned a tie game into a Knicks loss Monday night, sending the Knicks to the locker room on a three-game losing streak and determined to avoid a fine.
Aaron Holiday let up a prayer with 0.3 seconds remaining, a one-handed shot that should have marked the start of overtime, not the winning play.
But referee Jacyn Goble called a foul on Jalen Brunson, who was closing hard but maintaining an upright position with minimal contact under the clearance.
Holiday then buried two of his three foul shots, breaking the tie in the final moments of Monday’s stunning 105-103 loss to the Rockets.
“It’s a tough way to lose a game,” said an exasperated Tom Thibodeau. “A tough way to lose a match.”
More than an hour later, NBA executive Ed Malloy, who was the team leader at the game, admitted to a pool reporter that they had blown it.
“After seeing him during the post-game review, the offensive player was able to return to a normal playing position on the field,” Malloy said. “The contact, which occurred after the ball came out, is therefore incidental and marginal in relation to the shot attempt. And it shouldn’t have been called.
During the original live call, Malloy added, “the lower body contact was deemed to be illegal contact.”
Thibodeau no longer had a challenge to review the call because the Knicks coach unsuccessfully used it for a blocking foul on Taj Gibson in the second quarter.
Brunson was the hero seconds earlier.
He got behind Dillon Brooks with 8.3 seconds left, tying the score and making up for an ineffective performance.
But then zebra suits took over. Precious Achiuwa, continuing her strong defensive night, denied Jalen Green at the rim before the rebound went to Holiday.
Brunson may have made contact with Holiday’s body before the release, but there’s no way the game ended that way.
Brunson, the savvy All-Star, figured out that keeping his real thoughts to himself saved money.
“Good call, next question,” he repeated three times.
Josh Hart, standing next to Brunson, referred the question to a reporter who said he didn’t see a foul.
“I want you to write this,” Hart said.
It was the second time in just over a year that Goble missed an important call.
Last season, he was the official who missed an obvious foul that would have sent LeBron James over the line to win the game for the Lakers.
The referees also had to apologize following this error.
The Knicks (33-20) lost their third straight game and fell to 22-2 this season against teams with losing records.
The Rockets (23-29) got 23 points and five assists from Brooks, who served as Brunson’s defensive tormentor.
The Knicks next face a Valentine’s Day game in Orlando – a team that has already beaten them twice – which will be followed by a well-deserved All-Star break.
Brunson struggled all night — especially in a miserable first half — but still finished with 27 points and nine assists on 10-of-25 shooting.
Donte DiVincenzo was the other main source of offense, but left the game with about five minutes left complaining about his hamstring.
He became the latest on the Knicks’ long injury line after playing 41 of a possible 43 minutes.
He finished with 23 points.
Thibodeau said there was no update in his postgame statement and DiVincenzo declined to speak to the media before receiving treatment.
The game took a turn in the Rockets’ favor early in the fourth quarter, when the home team went on a 22-11 run to take an 11-point advantage.
The Knicks chipped away and finally managed to attach it to Brunson’s jumper.
The Rockets, playing without their point guard Fred VanVleet, ended a four-game losing streak.
The first half was lousy from Brunson, who shot just 2 of 11 with seven points and three turnovers.
But the leader was relentless.
He attacked and attacked, undeterred by misses and missed shots. And ultimately, Brunson gave the Knicks a chance at victory that was taken by Goble.
“The problem with the officials – that’s how I feel about it in general – is that I don’t really care how close the game is. You can call it tight or call it loose. I just want the consistency to be the same,” said Thibodeau, who noted that the Knicks took just 12 foul shots (the Rockets had 33). “And they have a job: they have to control and manage the game. That’s their No. 1 responsibility. They have to use their judgment and I have respect for that. So it didn’t go the way we wanted tonight.
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