The Knicks essentially erased Rockets center Dwight Howard from the equation, yet it still wasn’t enough to earn the win, as they fell to Houston, 109-106.
It was the eighth straight win by Houston over New York and the Knicks’ fourth straight loss at home.
Carmelo Anthony turned in a great effort by scoring a season-high 45 points on 17-of-30 shooting, including 26 points in the first half. But it was a four-point play which wasn’t that will have everyone talking. Anthony was intentionally fouled behind the arc by James Harden with five seconds remaining, but the official waved off the continuation shot that serendipitously found nothing but net.
“I thought it was close enough to have that call reviewed, but they never even entertained it,” head coach Mike Woodson said when asked if he got an explanation. “There’s nothing we can do about it now.”
Officials said after the game the call is not reviewable.
Potentially huge play or not, Anthony still had a great game as his big shooting night was complemented by Andrea Bargnani, who is beginning to look more comfortable in his sidekick role. Bargnani added 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including 12 points in the first half.
Just as important as his scoring prowess was Bargnani’s ability to be Howard’s kryptonite. The hulking Houston pivot tallied only seven points on 1-of-5 shooting in 34 uninspired minutes. Howard was basically cancelled out by the Knicks’ makeshift rotation at center, but mainly by Bargnani.
“I thought he played his butt off,” said Woodson when asked about Bargnani on the defensive end. “We tried to protect him early [by doubling Howard] to prolong the game, but then after a while we let him play him [straight-up]. I thought he was solid.”
Never known to be a defensive stopper, the 7-foot Bargnani harassed Howard in the post with his length, garnering a blocked shot and a handful other altered shots. He also flummoxed Howard by drawing him as far as 25-feet from the basket on the offensive end. He had to respect his long-distance range, which often kept Howard away from his comfort zone in the paint.
But despite the efforts of New York’s dynamic duo, the Rockets (6-4) managed to pull away late, on the strength of an 11-2 run down the stretch of the fourth quarter, and then hold on for the lead in the final 90 seconds.
Houston received 36 points from James Harden on 9-of-17 shooting (16-of-18 from the foul line), which was rather remarkable considering he sat out the previous night’s matchup with a sore foot. But Harden was able to get nearly any shot he wanted, while also getting his teammates involved, if not with the actual assist then with the “hockey assist.”
Jeremy Lin made a triumphant return to the Garden for the second time as a visitor, as he notched 21 points on 7-of-16 shooting. Chandler Parsons was the third Rocket to notch at least 20 points, as he contributed 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
Harden was the main antagonist, but the bigger problem for the Knicks was the way they fell in love with the outside shot. Houston had 44 free-throw attempts, while New York only had 27. Not even the obligatory late-game “hack-a-Dwight” strategy the Knicks tried to employ skewed the numbers much in Houston’s favor. The Rockets already had a 35-18 advantage by the time Knicks head coach Mike Woodson called for the tactic.
Anthony made a critical mistake late by fouling the center away from the ball with less than two minutes remaining resulted in a technical foul, giving the Rockets (6-4) a free throw – by the player of their choosing – and the ball again.
Woodson called that decision a “killer” and used that as an example of his team not “executing the little things to win a ball game.”
“Right now I’m still trying to get our team to understand the details and the little things that help you win games. We’re not there yet, so we have to keep working. There were always spurts that we did [wrong] like doubling Howard when we shouldn’t have or rotating. It’s the little things that we have to clean up,” Woodson said. “We did a lot of awful things early that took us out of it, so sure it’s a concern. We’re trying to win at home because we’ve let four games get away from us at home, something that we haven’t done since I’ve been here. We’ll figure it out eventually.”
Anthony certainly hopes everyone gets on the same page quickly.
“It was a tough one to lose, especially with the effort we put forth tonight. We just have to get over this hump at home and figure it out,” Anthony said, clearly troubled by the way the game ended. “I really don’t know. I’m at a loss for words right now. It’s all kind of a blur right now. Another one bites the dust, but we have to move forward [and] stay together.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.