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Crew chief reneges on critical foul in Knicks’ loss

HOUSTON — The Rockets picked up a victory after a call the officials said was wrong.

Aaron Holiday had 18 points, capped by two free throws after a disputed foul call on Jalen Brunson behind the 3-point line, lifting the Rockets to a 105-103 victory over the New York Knicks on Monday night.

Houston had a four-point lead with less than a minute to go before Brunson tallied the next four points, capped by a jump shot with 8.1 seconds left to tie the score at 103.

New York’s Precious Achiuwa then blocked a short shot by Jalen Green, and Holiday grabbed the ball beyond the arc and shot it as Brunson rushed out at him and was called for a foul.

After the game, crew chief Ed Malloy said that in live action the referees believed “the lower body contact was illegal contact.” But their opinion changed following a replay review.

“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.”

Holiday was asked about the play before Malloy’s comments.

“I just tried to get the ball and get a shot up,” Holiday said. “I saw him tip it, and it came close to me, so I just tried to get it and tried to make a 3, and Jalen just ran into my chest.”

Holiday made the first two free throws before missing the third intentionally to run out the clock.

Brunson was asked about what he thought of the foul call three different times and answered with the same four words each time.

“Great call,” he said. “Next question.”

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau was asked about the game’s ending.

“Tough way to lose a game,” he said twice in a row.

Thibodeau then was asked what he thought about the officiating, and he said it was “great.” But when asked directly if he believed Brunson fouled Holiday, he avoided the question.

“You look at it,” he said, slightly shaking his head.

“The thing with the officials — this is the way I feel about that, in general,” Thibodeau added. “I don’t really care how tight the game is called. You can call it tight. You can call it loose. We like consistency to be the same. And they have a job. They have to control and manage the game. That’s their No. 1 responsibility. So, they have to use their judgment, and I have respect for that. Didn’t go our way tonight.”

Dillon Brooks scored 23 points, Jabari Smith Jr. added 20 and Alperen Sengun put up 18 to help the Rockets snap a four-game skid.

“It was good to see us close it out in the fourth in a back-and-forth game,” Houston coach Ime Udoka said.

Holiday was happy the Rockets finished this one after losing a couple of close contests.

“This was huge,” he said. “We lost the last two I feel like we could have won and just didn’t get it done down the stretch. So, I’m glad we were able to pull this one out.”

Brunson posted 27 points, and Donte DiVincenzo scored 23 as the Knicks lost their third straight.

The Rockets were up by three points entering the fourth before Holiday powered an 11-5 run to push the advantage to 85-76 with about nine minutes to go. Holiday opened the quarter with a dunk before hitting a 3-pointer. He added a jump shot next before dishing to Smith for a dunk and finishing his hot spell with a layup.

A 3-pointer by Brooks put Houston up by 11 before the Knicks scored the next nine points — with the last seven coming from Bojan Bogdanovic — to cut the lead to 91-89 with 5½ minutes to go.

Brooks made a 3 to put Houston up by five with about 3½ minutes left, but Josh Hart connected on one seconds later to get the Knicks within 98-96.

Another 3 by Brooks came afterward, that but this time Alec Burks netted a trey for New York to cut the lead to two again with less than two minutes left.

Houston played without Fred VanVleet, who missed a fourth straight game due to a strained left adductor, and rookie Cam Whitmore, out for a second game because of a sprained right ankle.

The Rockets led by 14 at halftime before the Knicks opened the second half with a 16-4 run that got them within 61-59 with about 7½ minutes left in the third. Brunson scored the first four points during that span, and Hart had two 3s to help New York trim the deficit.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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