HOUSTON — It had no chance of going in and the Knicks were hosed.
Aaron Holiday was launching a prayer, a one-handed shot that should’ve marked the start of overtime, not the game-winning play.
Instead, referee Jacyn Goble whistled a foul on Jalen Brunson, who was closing out hard but maintaining a vertical stance. Holiday then buried two of his three foul shots, breaking the tie in the final moments in Monday’s stunning 105-103 loss to the Rockets.
“Tough way to lose a game,” Tom Thibodeau said.
Brunson was the hero just seconds earlier.
He drained a step-back over Dillon Brooks with 8.3 seconds remaining, knotting the score and seemingly making up for an otherwise inefficient performance.
The Knicks even played an exquisite final defensive possession, with Precious Achiuwa rejecting Jalen Green before the rebound went to Holiday.
Then the zebra suits took over.
“You look at it,” Thibodeau said of the play, avoiding a fine. “If you look at the film, you see it. It is what it is.”
The Knicks (33-20) dropped their third straight and fell to 22-2 this season against teams that entered Monday night with losing records.
The Rockets (23-29) got 23 points and five assists from Brooks, who served as a defensive tormenter.
The Knicks mounted a dramatic comeback to reach that point in the game, getting that timely step-back from Brunson over Brooks and strong defense from Achiuwa.
But after struggling offensively all evening, the Knicks had no margin for error or mistakes from the officials.
They’ve next head into a Valentine’s Day matchup in Orlando — a team that has already defeated the Knicks twice — which is followed by a much-needed All-Star break.
Brunson struggled all evening — 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 remaining while complaining about his hamstring.
He became the latest on the Knicks’ long infirmary line after playing 41 of a possible 43 minutes. He finished with 23 points.
Thibodeau said there was no update in his postgame presser.
The game took a turn toward the Rockets at the start of the fourth quarter, when the home team went on a 18-7 run to take a 11-point advantage.
The Knicks chipped away and eventually tied it on Brunson’s jumper.
The Rockets, playing without their point guard Fred VanVleet, snapped a four-game losing streak.
The first half was ugly for Brunson, who shot just 2 for 11 with seven points and three turnovers before the break.
But he was relentless. He attacked and attacked, undeterred by the flubs and missed shots. And eventually, the point guard gave the Knicks a chance to win that was taken away by the referees.
Newcomers Alec Burks and Bojan Bogdanovic combined for 20 points. Bogdanovic had 15 of them.