Another frustrating game for the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden boiled over into an ugly brawl Saturday night that led to all 10 players on the court being ejected in the final minutes of a 123-100 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
Carmelo Anthony, who led the Nuggets with 34 points, was an unstoppable force throughout the game, but his night will be remembered for the punch he landed to the face of Knicks rookie Mardy Collins in the midst of a melee that broke out with 1:15 left in the game.
Collins put a hard foul on Nuggets guard J.R. Smith, who was going in for an open layup in a game that was well into garbage time. Smith objected to Collins' rough foul and they went face to face under the basket across from the Knicks' bench. Nate Robinson then jumped in and shoved Smith and the two tangled, which set off a pileup in the front row. No fans were involved in the fight.
As matters intensified, Anthony found his way to Collins and threw a right-handed punch that caught Collins in the cheek. The NBA's leading scorer is sure to face NBA discipline for the punch.
The fight eventually settled down and the officials got together and decided to throw out all 10 players who were on the floor at the time. (The other players remained in their bench areas, as is required.) The Nuggets exited the court to a shower of boos from the Garden crowd, which then cheered the Knicks when they left.
Collins was given a flagrant foul for the play.
Robinson and Knicks Coach Isiah Thomas said tension was high because Nuggets Coach George Karl had not pulled his regulars from a game that was out of reach.
"If we're up 20 or 30 points, we're not going to keep Stephon [Marbury] or Eddy [Curry] in," Robinson said of the Knicks' stars. "That's a slap in the face."
Karl said: "We're in a stretch where we're not playing well and we're going to take substitutions into the game? We have to finish the game with the guys on the floor."
There had been some bad blood between Karl and Thomas over the handling of the Larry Brown firing by the Knicks last season. Karl and Brown are close friends.
Thomas said he even told Anthony that he never should have been in the game at the time.
"I just said to him, 'You know, you're up 20, you're up 19 with a minute and half to go, you and [Marcus] Camby really shouldn't be in the game right now,' " Thomas said. "We had surrendered, those guys shouldn't even be in the game at that point in time.
"They were having their way with us. I think J.R. Smith had just made one dunk when he reversed and spun in the air. And I think Mardy didn't want our home crowd to see that again. So he fouled him."
Said Smith: "I don't even know who he is. That's the first time I've ever seen the dude. I have nothing to do with that [the brawl]. I'll let other people sort it out."
The Knicks' Jared Jeffries said: "What I'm offended by is one of my teammates getting punched when he doesn't see it coming. That's how people get hurt."
Said Anthony, "I don't want to comment on it. It's too early." Regarding a suspension, he said, "I don't know what to expect right now."
"It was a very poor display of respecting basketball and respecting the game in the best place in the world to play basketball," Karl said. Asked if the incident was mortifying, he said: "The whole scene was whatever words you want to use. That's probably correct. I haven't watched it [a replay] yet, and I'm not going to watch it."
Anthony made 15 of 29 shots and the Nuggets shot 57% as the Knicks fell to 4-10 at home.
"Clearly this isn't how we or the NBA wants to be perceived," Thomas said. "It should have been a foul and the guy takes two free throws and maybe some words, but it shouldn't have escalated. This isn't even a rivalry."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.