The Houston Rockets narrowly pulled out a win on Monday night thanks to a foul call at the buzzer that left both Jalen Brunson and New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau up in arms.
The call was so bad, in fact, that head official Ed Malloy admitted it shouldn't have been called it the first place.
The Rockets, after Brunson hit a step-back jumper to tie the game in the final seconds at the Toyota Center, had one last chance at a shot to grab the win on the other end. After a bad pass to Aaron Holiday near the top of the key as time was expiring, Holiday attempted to throw up a one-handed desperation heave.
As he did so, Brunson came flying through with a hand up to try and contest the shot. Brunson appeared to make minimal contact, and both players landed on their feet as the shot was off the mark.
Yet officials called Brunson for a foul, which sent Holiday to the free throw line where he gave the Rockets the 105-103 win. Both Brunson and Thibodeau looked completely confused by the call.
Foul called on Jalen Brunson while Rockets shoot a 3 towards end of the 4th QT (Game score: 103-103). pic.twitter.com/pavUPyxMeE
— 3030 (@jose3030) February 13, 2024
The Knicks didn't have a challenge available to them, and replays of the final sequence didn't show outrageous contact by Brunson.
Jalen Brunson was called for this foul with the game tied and the clock approaching zero.
Holiday hit 2 free throws and the Rockets won.
Fair or nah? 🧐 pic.twitter.com/z2BQv9W98s
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) February 13, 2024
To make matters worse for the Knicks, Thibodeau thought he had time to run one final play after Holiday's free throws. But after a review, officials determined the game was in fact over — which sent Thibodeau off on a NSFW rant.
Tom Thibodeau is IRATE after the Knicks weren’t granted timeout after attempting to grab a rebound with .3 left 😳
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) February 13, 2024
"That's a tough way to lose a game. A tough way to lose a game," Thibodeau said plainly after the game.
Thibodeau was asked directly about Brunson's final closeout, too, and he kept his answer very simple.
"If you look at the film, you see it," he said. "It is what it is."
Full Tom Thibodeau Post Game Press Conference pic.twitter.com/nmDWaOXrWL
— DJ (@DJAceNBA) February 13, 2024
Brunson, clearly not wanting to be fined, wasn't willing to get into it.
Jalen Brunson fielded three questions about the foul to end the game. Each time, he had the same four-word response:
"Great call. Next question."
— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) February 13, 2024
Malloy was asked about the play after the game and said that, after seeing the replay, he didn't think the call was correct.
"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."
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) February 13, 2024
But regardless, the call stood and the Rockets got the win.
Brunson led the Knicks with 27 points and seven assists on the night. Donte DiVincenzo added 23 points, and Josh Hart finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds. The Knicks have now lost three straight and four of their last five games. They hold a 33-21 record with one game left before the All-Star break.
Dillon Brooks led Houston with 23 points after he shot 6-of-7 from the 3-point line. Jabari Smith Jr. added 20 points and seven rebounds, and Alperen Sengun finished with 18 points. The win snapped a four-game losing skid for the Rockets, who now hold a 24-29 record.