The New York Knicks very nearly overcame overwhelming odds in Monday’s loss to the Houston Rockets. They trailed by as many as 16 points. They were playing without starters Mitchell Robinson, Julius Randle and OG Anunoby as well as key reserve Isaiah Hartenstein, and they were on the road against a Rockets team that is 19-9 at home. Yet despite all of that, the Knicks came fractions of a second away from sending Houston to overtime. Instead, the game swung on one of the most controversial calls of the season.
The Rockets have possession in the closing seconds. Jalen Green tries to win it with a layup as the clock passes the three-second mark. Precious Achiuwa blocks it away, and it looks like we’re going to overtime. That is, until Aaron Holiday comes up with possession and throws up a prayer. Fortunately for Houston, Jalen Brunson aggressively closed out on the shot and was called for a foul. Replay review confirmed that the foul came before the clock struck zero.
Holiday went on to sink two free throws, and the Rockets escaped with a 105-103 victory. And yet, after the game, official Ed Malloy told pool reporter Fred Katz of The Athletic that the foul call was a mistake. “After seeing it during postgame review, the offensive player was able to return to a normal playing position on the floor,” Malloy said. “The contact which occurred after the release of the ball therefore is incidental and marginal to the shot attempt and should not have been called.”
The call itself was controversial on several levels. Rarely do we see whistles on such desperation heaves as the clock expires, but you could also argue that Holiday initiates the contact by sticking out his arm. Nonetheless, the foul was called and the Rockets won. “It was a great call,” Brunson grumbled after the game. “Next question.”
Nobody enjoys seeing officials decide a close game like, but at the same time, it was a somewhat reckless closeout by Brunson. New York’s All-Star point guard makes his money offensively in part because of his remarkable body control, yet on this play, he was far too aggressive in attempting to contest what was a very low-percentage shot. He gave the officials a chance to make the rare call and they ultimately made it.