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With second-half energy, Aaron Holiday rescues Rockets versus Knicks

HOUSTON — Most fans who showed up to Monday’s matchup at Toyota Center between the Rockets and New York Knicks came to see an undersized, overachieving point guard put on a show. They did witness that, but not from the player they expected.

New York’s Jalen Brunson has received widespread accolades and praise from NBA analysts, including some who even believe he has a shot of winning MVP this season. As such, many of the 16,790 fans in attendance were there to see him put on a show.

Yet, what they got was a star-studded performance from Rockets reserve guard Aaron Holiday, whose energy off the bench helped Houston outduel New York and barely escape with a 105-103 win.

“It was good to have a spark come in and get out in transition and make big shots, but also what he does on the defensive side of the ball, as well,” Rockets head coach Ime Udoka said of Holiday’s night.

Houston needed everything Holiday provided after blowing a 57-43 halftime lead during the third quarter. Their offense had become predictable and stalled at times, which allowed New York to get back into the game as they held the Rockets to just 17 points in the frame.

Holding a slim 74-71 lead to begin the final period, Houston needed someone to step in and help regain control. That player was none other than Holiday, who made a statement within 26 seconds.

Near half-court, Holiday tipped a pass from rookie guard Amen Thompson to himself, gathered, and proceeded to drive the lane with force. Holiday went on to dunk over Bojan Bogdanovic and Josh Hart of the Knicks, with Brunson watching on the other end of the court.

After a play like that, the 6-foot-0 guard out of UCLA did what anyone of his stature would do in that spot. He flexed for the crowd.

“I was just trying it to see what happens,” Holiday said postgame regarding his posterizing dunk.

That play seemed to get Holiday going while re-energizing the Rockets (24-29). In a span of just a few brief minutes, Holiday scored nine out of Houston’s following 11 points and assisted on the other two points, feeding teammate Jabari Smith Jr. for a dunk.

“That dunk was a big spark and energy boost,” Smith Jr. told Rockets Wire of Holiday, who scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. “Just his energy alone… gives us all energy. He does that a lot off the bench, and we needed it tonight, and that was really good for us.”

Holiday’s fourth-quarter heroics were not done yet. In the closing stages on Monday night, New York (33-21) climbed back into the game on the back of Brunson, who seemed to come to life in the second half after having a disastrous first half (with only 7 points).

With 8.3 seconds left, Brunson’s step-back jumper tied the game, 103-103 Houston called timeout, looking to set up a play for either Alperen Sengun or Jalen Green to take the last shot to win the game.

As play resumed, Green was able to get the ball and drive to the basket before having his shot blocked by Precious Achiuwa. The deflection wound up in the hands of Holiday, who sent a desperation 3-point attempt toward the basket over Brunson. After a controversial shooting foul on the attempt, Holiday hit the first two free throws before intentionally missing the last one as time expired.

“I tried to get the ball and get a shot off,” Holiday said. “I saw him tip it, and it came close to me, so I just tried to get it and try and make a three. Jalen just ran into my chest, and they called a foul.”

After the game, crew chief Ed Malloy admitted that the controversial foul called on Brunson was incorrect.

“After seeing it during the postgame review, the offensive player was able to return to a normal playing position on the floor,” Malloy said in a “pool report” interview with The Athletic. “Therefore, the contact which occurred after the ball’s release is incidental and marginal to the shot attempt and should not have been called.”

The incorrect call robbed the fans of seeing Holiday and Brunson continue to battle each other in an extra period. Still, the Rockets will gladly take the win to snap what had been a four-game losing streak.

Story originally appeared on Rockets Wire