HOUSTON -- Carmelo Anthony was grimacing at different points in the game because of his tender left ankle. But J.R. Smith was the one in pain afterward, and it wasn't because of anything physical.
Smith made a major mental mistake down the stretch of the Knicks' heartbreaking 102-100 loss to the Rockets Friday night at the Toyota Center.
With the score tied at 100, Beno Udrih missed a corner three-pointer with 24.8 seconds left, but Tyson Chandler got the rebound and kicked it out to Smith.
The Knicks could have killed the clock and played for one shot, but the wide-open Smith had other things on his mind, launching a three-pointer that missed with 19.9 seconds left. Aaron Brooks rebounded it, Udrih fouled him with 17 seconds left and Brooks hit what proved to be the game-winning free throws.
"Honestly, I thought we were down two," Smith said. "I shot the ball and I started hearing Tyson say no, no, no, don't take the shot. But by that time it was already released. Just a bad shot. Or a good shot, bad timing. It was just bad basketball IQ by me."
He added, "We should have won the game. We've just got to hold for that last shot, get the ball to Melo and let him do what he does. It didn't happen."
After a timeout, the Knicks had two more shots to tie it but missed both.
Anthony found Iman Shumpert, but his one-dribble pull-up missed with 10.9 seconds left. This time Andrea Bargnani grabbed the offensive rebound and passed it out to Smith. He looked at Anthony, who was screaming for the ball, but he was being overplayed, so Smith swung it to Udrih. He got in the paint and threw up a runner, but it rolled around the rim and dropped out at the buzzer.
So the Knicks (10-22) missed four shots in the last 24.8 seconds as they attempted to tie the score or take the lead. But Smith's mishap was what had Mike Woodson and many Knicks shaking their heads. They could have won the game there or, at the very least, forced overtime.
"Yeah, I was surprised," Woodson said. "This game is built and based on time, score and situation. You got to know what you're doing out there on the floor. It's a game of inches, especially if they're tight games. And one bad move here or there can cost you a ballgame. We weren't smart coming down the home stretch."
Anthony, playing with an achy left ankle that he aggravated in the final seconds of the Knicks' win in San Antonio on Thursday, scored 25 points. He had only four in the fourth quarter and didn't attempt a shot in the last 2:04. Shumpert followed up his career-best 27-point night in San Antonio by shooting 9-for-14 and scoring 26 points.
James Harden had 37 points for Houston (22-13), going 12-for-12 from the line. He had scored 36 against the Knicks on Nov. 14. Chandler Parsons added 17 points and 11 rebounds, Dwight Howard had 15 points and Jeremy Lin added 14, all in the first half.
It was a difficult setback, but the Knicks have played with more effort and a greater sense of urgency in the first two games of 2014 than they did the last two months of 2013. They led by nine in the third quarter and brought an eight-point lead into the fourth, but they shot 5-for-20 in the quarter.
"It's a tough one," Anthony said. "It's a game we felt we definitely should have won. I felt like we gave them the game."