Bad whistle: Three takeaways from Wednesday’s 130-128 loss to the Kings

Feb 6, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets center Alperen Sengun (28) looses the ball against Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes (40) in the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Bad whistle: Three takeaways from Wednesday’s 130-128 loss to the Kings

The Rockets thought they had Wednesday’s game won. The music was playing inside Toyota Center, but with the Rockets up 128-127 De’Aaron Fox was ruled to have been fouled by Eric Gordon on a three-point attempt. Fox made all three free throws the Rockets lost to the Kings 130-128. Fox finished with 31 points, 13 of which came in the game’s final quarter. Jalen Green led all scorers with 41.

Death by the whistle

It looked like the Rockets had the game won, but official Ray Acosta ruled Eric Gordon fouled De’Aaron Fox on his 3-point attempt at the buzzer. Replays in the arena showed Gordon never made contact with Fox, who made all three free throws with 0.3 seconds left on the clock.

“There was no doubt on the floor that the call was correct, and after postgame video review the call on the floor of a defensive foul is confirmed,” crew chief Gediminas Petraitis told the pool reporter.

The game should never have come down that play. The Rockets squandered a five point lead with 1:17 to play by committing three turnovers in the game’s final minute. Jalen Green lost a ball that resulted in a fast break bucket, then K.J. Martin was called for a charge on a fast break of his own when he had Jabari Smith Jr. wide-open in the corner, and finally Alperen Sengun threw an inbounds pass away giving the Kings the final possession of the game.

“We clean those three plays up, it’s a whole totally different game, but we fought back,” Rockets head coach Stephen Silas said.

Defensive effort improves significantly

If you judged solely by the scoreboard, it wouldn’t look like the Rockets improved much from Monday’s awful effort on the defensive end of the floor, but the eye test tells a different story. The Kings scored 99 points in the game’s first 36 minutes, just like two nights ago, but that’s a credit to them for sporting the NBA’s second-best offense and pushing the pace of the game. The Rockets were engaged, they doubled hard on Sabonis, and their rotations were pretty crisp.

“We still gave up 130, and it’s a totally different feel,” Silas said. “They attacked us, but we tried, and we made the extra effort, and we did some really good things offensively, so that feeling should be what we want moving forward.”

Sacramento put up 130 points because it shot 51% from the field, finished with just 10 turnovers, and lived at the free throw line, converting on 28-of-30 from the charity stripe, but the Rockets saved their best defense for last, holding the Kings to 48% shooting in the fourth quarter, and they didn’t send them to the line until the Gordon phantom foul at the end of the game. The Rockets’ big issue defensively was, per usual, in transition, where they allowed 17 fast break points, struggled to get back on made layups, and even one made free throw.

Jalen Green picks up where he left off

Jalen Green finished Monday’s game by knocking down nine of his last 14 shots, and he continued to shoot it well by shooting 6-of-8 in a 16 points first quarter, which staked the Rockets to a 37-20 lead. He slowed down in the second quarter, putting up just five points on one made field goal, but he started cooking again with an eight-point third quarter, and then he exploded 12 points in the fourth, which included a 3-pointer to put the Rockets on top for good.

The Rockets guard finished with 41 points and looks healthy after missing three games with a calf injury. The only way Sacramento could slow Green was by sending a second defender at him which led to a pair of turnovers.

Next up

The Rockets will start a five-game road trip that will take them past the All-Star break when they take on the Miami Heat Friday night.

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