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Should Carmelo Anthony have had a chance for a 4-point play late in Knicks’ loss to Rockets? (Video)

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

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James Harden fouls Carmelo Anthony, just in the nick of time. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Twice this week, the Houston Rockets have found themselves leading by three points late in the fourth quarter of a game, facing an opponent with possession of the ball and one last shot to knot things up. Twice, head coach Kevin McHale elected not to instruct his players to foul immediately and force the opponent to head to the free throw line rather than allow a 3-point shot to be taken. And twice, the Rockets got burned — once on a Rudy Gay triple that pushed an overtime game to double OT (where Houston would outlast the Toronto Raptors) and once on a long-range bomb by James Anderson that gave the Philadelphia 76ers five more minutes and, eventually, a come-from-behind win.

There's long been a difference of opinion on intentionally fouling with a three-point lead — many, many smart people, including well-regarded coaches, have batted it around, coming to varying conclusions. McHale and company faced such a scenario for the third straight game on Thursday, leading the New York Knicks 107-104 with 5.8 seconds left and the Knicks looking to extend the game. This time, the Rockets were going to foul ... and boy, did that almost come back to bite them, because James Harden declined to make sure his foul actually prevented the potential leveler.

Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, who'd already scored an NBA 2013-14 season-high 43 points, broke to the sideline and received the inbounds pass from guard Iman Shumpert, but couldn't quite get the handle on it on first touch. Harden hustled up behind Anthony, whacking at him and trying to take the foul; as he did so, Anthony turned and hoisted, and found his prayer answered. Bottoms. 107-107, 'Melo headed to the line to try for a miracle four-point play and a one-point lead.

Except, y'know, not.

See, the play was blown dead as soon as the foul was called, and that happened before the shot went up, so instead of three to the head and a chance for a fourth, Anthony was heading to the line for a measly pair. This, as you might expect, did not make the fans at Madison Square Garden too happy.

Anthony made the front end, but mistakenly made the second, too — he confirmed after the game that he tried to miss it and follow it up for the rebound, but in a cruel twist of fate after some early-season struggles, this was a night where 'Melo couldn't miss when it counted. His freebies drew the Knicks within a point, but Harden made a pair on the other end to push the lead back to three. J.R. Smith's last-second 47-foot heave came up wanting, and the Rockets escaped from New York (shouts to Plissken) with a 109-106 victory.

After the game, referee Scott Foster explained why Anthony didn't get the continuation call, why Knicks coach Mike Woodson's request for a review was denied, and the rest of the messy miscellany behind the four-point-play-that-wasn't, as related by Bleacher Report's Howard Beck:

While it might not be what Knicks fans want to hear, the more you watch the play, the more you see Foster's point — Harden hit Anthony several times, including at least once before the shot actually went up, and that initial contact is what prompted Foster's call. Yes, 'Melo and plenty of other NBA players have gotten friendlier continuation calls over the years, but hey, the rules are the rules and the whistle's the whistle. No use crying over spilt milk.

Well, OK — maybe a little crying, especially with respect to the Rockets' 44-27 advantage in free-throw attempts, with 18 of them taken by Harden. From the Associated Press:

Asked if it was tough that the Knicks sent Harden to the line often when they got close, Anthony replied, "We didn't put him on the line, they put him on the line."

Harden led the NBA in free throw attempts last season and is third this season. He was 16 of 18 Thursday, while Anthony, his teammate on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, was 9 for 11.

"You look at that, you see the way that some guys get their calls," Anthony said, "and for me, I've got to get cut, you've got to see blood for me to get a call down there. So that's where the frustration comes from."

To a certain extent, that frustration's understandable — Harden is, after all, a certified flopper — and it's not like 'Melo wasn't attacking the basket on Thursday, as 16 of his 30 field-goal attempts came in the paint and he spent most of his time working on the mid-block against Rockets defender Terrence Jones. His teammates, though, did take a bunch of jumpers — 44 of the Knicks' 87 shots came outside the paint — while the Rockets, seeing a gaping hole in the middle of a New York defense without injured center Tyson Chandler, drove to the rim early and often, frequently drawing contact from late-rotating and out-of-sorts Knicks help defenders. The disparity, while vast, wasn't exactly wholly unexplainable.

Plus, it's worth noting that the Rockets found themselves up three points late thanks, in part, to an earlier Anthony error. After closing the gap to 104-102 with 1:39 remaining, Anthony intentionally fouled Rockets center Dwight Howard, who's been struggling with his foul shot, and had just missed a pair two minutes earlier.

Just one problem: Anthony's hack came in the final two minutes, which operates under a different set of rules. According to the league's official rulebook, in those final two minutes, any away-from-the-play fouls result not only in the fouled team maintaining possession, but also in "one free throw attempt" that "may be attempted by any player in the game at the time the personal foul was committed." McHale, smartly, chose Harden to take the Howard-drawn freebie, pushing the lead to three and giving the Rockets the ball back with a chance to extend the advantage. They didn't, and the Knicks kept it tight, but the damage was done — Anthony admitted after the game that it was a "bone-headed play on [his] part," and it cost New York in the final analysis. (As did the Knicks' five missed free throws, and the trio of Smith, Raymond Felton and Metta World Peace shooting a combined 8 for 32, and so on.)

Anthony finished with 45 points on 17 for 30 shooting, 10 rebounds and four assists in 44 minutes; he is the first Knick to put up 45 and 10 since Patrick Ewing in 1995. If not for a brief bobble, a proper whistle and a split-second shift in fortune, that accomplishment might have been paired with a thrilling home win; as it stands, though, the Knicks fall to 3-5, and 1-4 at MSG this season.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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