LeBron James, movie producer, couldn’t have scripted it better himself.
The Lakers came into the World’s Most Famous Arena on Tuesday night without their leading man (James, who was suspended for a hard foul on Sunday on Detroit’s Isaiah Stewart that drew blood and led to an ugly incident).
In James’ place was the former Garden hero and Brooklyn-born future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony, who shares an affinity for New York and with Knicks fans that was on full display when he entered the game 4:10 into the first quarter to a standing ovation.
All that was left for this to become a true Hollywood ending was for Anthony to lead Los Angeles back from a 25-point, second-quarter deficit.
He almost did. It was Anthony who tied the game at 79 on a fast-break slam late in the third quarter.
And it was Anthony who had a chance to give the Lakers their first lead of the night less than a minute later when he lined up a three with the game tied at 81.
Cut to slow motion. Cue the dramatic music . . .
But Anthony missed the shot.
The same fans who had come out of their seats to cheer him were cheering now because Anthony didn’t give the Lakers the lead. Obi Toppin grabbed the rebound and was later rewarded with a pass from Julius Randle that led to a dunk that gave the Knicks the lead for good en route to a 106-100 victory.
Anthony, who was averaging 15.2 points and shooting 46.1 percent on three-pointers coming in, finished 3-for-14 (2-for-8 from three) and scored only 12 points.
You can go home again. But that doesn’t mean you get the win, too.
"I always look forward to playing in the Garden," Anthony said on Monday. "Playing in front of the fans, whether with the Knicks or against the Knicks. For me that love is different, that fan base is different for me, here in New York, and like I said, it goes deeper than basketball. They embrace me. I have embraced them, and I don't think that bond between myself and New York City will ever go anywhere."
James’ Sunday foul, which the NBA declared "reckless," robbed MSG fans of King James’ only visit of the season.
Anthony is 37, so you don’t even know if he’s going to be around next year for a 20th NBA season. He signed a one-year contract to try and help bring another championship to LeBron’s Lakers, but at 9-10, Los Angeles hardly looks like a contender right now.
The Knicks scored the game’s first 10 points and went up by 25 midway through the second quarter.
The Lakers looked so bad, you could just about hear the recently retired Steve Somers intone on WFAN: "The Los Angeles Lakers? More like the Los Angeles Fakers."
James’ only participation was in a TV ad for a home workout product.
As the Knicks completed a 9-0 run, Reggie Miller exclaimed on TNT: "The Lakers’ defense absolutely stinks right now."
But then a funny thing happened on the way to a blowout: The Knicks stopped making shots and the Lakers started playing defense (or maybe it was the other way around?). Los Angeles ended the second quarter on a 16-4 run and it was 63-51 at halftime.
The Lakers, behind Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis (playing despite a non-COVID illness) climbed the entire mountain in the third, erasing the entire deficit.
"Not a good enough start," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. "But a hell of a fight from our guys."
Said Westbrook: "When we decided to play harder, it made a significant difference." (Ya think?)
But playing the fourth game of a five-game Eastern swing, Los Angeles ran out of gas and the Knicks escaped with the victory.
"We gathered ourselves and we finished it well," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Anthony thought about signing with the Knicks before this season. Maybe he’ll think about finishing his career next year in front of the same Garden fans who showed him so much love as a visitor on Tuesday.
And maybe he’ll make the big shot for the Knicks one more time and show Hollywood what a New York ending looks like.