The New York Knicks (33-21) were in Houston to face the Rockets (24-29) tonight and, yes, short-handed yet again. Despite a promising start, the Knicks found themselves down by 14 at halftime. After probably his worst first half of the season, Jalen Brunson led a third-quarter rally and would have carried the Knicks to glory if not for Rocket-friendly whistles. In a game where Houston took 33 free throws to the Knicks’ 12, a Brunson foul on Aaron Holiday with the game tied and 0.3 seconds left decided the outcome, 105-103.
Don’t overlook that Precious Achiuwa grabbed 17 rebounds tonight, including a career-high nine O-boards, and added three blocks in 39 minutes. His block at the end had us jumping out of our seats. Donte DiVincenzo added 23 points but looked gassed and finished 5-of-14 from behind the arc. Bojan Bogdanovic scored 15 from the bench and finally looked comfortable late in the game. And Josh Hart logged another double-double, 17 points, 11 boards. Tough effort, tough loss.
The Knicks had grabbed an eight-point lead by midway through the first quarter and this had the makings of an easy contest. Then Houston adjusted their defensive screws and started pushing the paint while the Knicks’ shooting went flat and the turnovers piled up. The Rockets took off on a 21-8 run to finish the period ahead, 29-22.
Jalen Brunson had struggled, missing all of his first five shots, but Donte DiVincenzo was an early bright spot. He swished three of four three-point attempts in Q1, including this fireball:
Houston’s 21-year-old center Alperen Şengün was a game-time decision with a back issue. Whatever ailed him wasn’t apparent tonight, as he commanded the paint against Jericho Sims. By midway through the second quarter, he helped to muscle Houston to a 16-point lead. They entered halftime up, 57-43.
Ten first-half turnovers contributed to New York’s woes. Jalen Brunson didn’t make his first field goal—a three-pointer—until the 3:55 mark in the second period. Pre-intermission, Jalen made only two of 11 field goal attempts for seven points and coughed up three turnovers. Dillon Brooks put a body on him and got under his skin, effectively so.
Jalen did dish four first-half assists, however, including this shiny dime. Welcome back, Jericho.
Jalen Brunson drops a DIME to Jericho Sims for the slam— Knicks Nation (@KnicksNationCP) February 13, 2024
In the first half, DiVo led all scorers with 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting. He had made four of nine three-point attempts while the rest of the team had shot 1-of-9. Fortunately for them, Houston shot 31% from deep. The free throws were lopsided, with Houston taking 16 to New York’s four. Easy on the whistle, Malloy!
Jabari Smith, Jr. topped the Rockets with 13 points and had shot 6-of-7 from the charity stripe. Amen Thompson and Jaesean Tate both had three steals for the home team. Houston has the league’s fifth-best defensive rating, and proved it tonight.
Your first-half shot chart:
Tom Thibodeau received his first tech of the season to close the first half, so Houston started the third quarter with a free throw (Aaron Holiday missed it). Brunson scored the first four points, Josh Hart added a triple, and New York looked determined to take control post-intermission.
Systemically the Knicks chiseled at the deficit with an 18-6 start to the third. They outrebounded Houston 18-4 in the period and tied the game at 2:45 with another bruising Jalen Brunson drive. They would end the quarter behind, 74-71.
Brooks continued to lower his shoulder and get the benefit of a home court whistle. Brunson hit the floor on nearly every possession but scored 12 points in Q3. To soften the blows, the Texas crowd chanted MVP when he shot free throws. Knicks fans travel.
Aaron Holiday scored nine points to start the fourth quarter and a 17-9 run put the Knicks on the ropes.
Bojan Bogdanović has yet to mesh with the Knicks’ offense, but he contributed solid minutes and timely buckets in the fourth. He finished the night with 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Alec Burks played only 17 minutes, but his competent play allowed Brunson a breather in Q4. Burks finished with five points, shooting 1-of-8.
Brunson checked back in with five minutes to go. Dillon Brooks and Josh Hart traded triples, and the Knicks found themselves down by three with three minutes remaining. Brooks hit another trey, and Alec Burks answered with another. The teams went punch-for-punch down the stretch, but the Knicks missed three three-pointers, any of which could have given them the lead. New York was down by two when a wedgied Sengun shot forced a jump ball at center court with 21 seconds left. Brunson corralled the ball and swished a jumper in Dillon’s face to knot it at 103 with eight seconds left.
Achiuwa blocked Jalen Green with 1.1 seconds left. Aaron Holiday heaved up a final shot attempt with 0.3 seconds left, but Brunson had brushed him and the refs delivered the game to the home team. As seemed to be their plan throughout.
On to Orlando for a clash with the Disneys on Wednesday. Safe travels, Knickerbockers.