Make no mistake about it. Carmelo Anthony knew all hell could have broken loose Sunday night in Detroit.
His Lakers were losing 78-66 with 9:18 left in the third quarter when LeBron James struck Piston Isaiah Stewart in the face with an elbow, forearm and fist while boxing out for a rebound. The foul led to a prolonged game stoppage as Stewart, with blood streaming down his face, had to be held back by a dozen Detroit coaches and players as he tried to go after James.
Both players were ejected, and the Lakers clearly were rattled by seeing their superstar threatened. Rattled enough that Anthony felt he needed to step up and say something to calm the team down. He needed to make sure they retaliated by winning the game instead of doing something worse.
"Why did I speak up? That’s just who I am. It’s a part of my makeup," Anthony said in a Zoom interview Monday. "I felt we had to come together and believe in the bigger picture."
That moment demonstrates just how important the 19-year veteran is on this star-laden team. Thanks to Anthony’s leadership, the Lakers were able to rally from a 17-point deficit and outscore the Pistons 37-17 in the final quarter.
That kind of leadership is no surprise to Knicks fans who continue to wax nostalgic about Anthony’s six-plus seasons in New York. For Knicks fans under the age of 30, Anthony represents the one time in their lives that the Knicks actually were pretty good. As a result, he may be more beloved in absentia than he was when he was with the team.
Tuesday night’s Knicks-Lakers game is far from the first time Anthony has returned to Madison Square Garden since the Knicks traded him to Oklahoma City in 2017. It may be his happiest.
Anthony, 37, a 10-time All-Star, still lives in New York in the offseason. But with the Lakers, he finally has found a home.
He went through some tough times in Oklahoma City and Houston and during almost a year out of basketball. But after reviving his career in Portland, he is shining in his super-sub role in Los Angeles.
"I’m just doing what I love to do," said Anthony, who is averaging 15.2 points and 28.8 minutes and making 46.1% of his three-pointers. "At this stage, it’s about being adaptable to your situation and your surroundings. It’s about being wiser and doing what the team needs you to do."
For years, in Denver and New York, Anthony was the focal point of the offense.
His detractors in New York called him a ball hog. If he was, it’s because he often had to be. Whether or not you liked his game, there was no one else near his skill level on any of his teams.
That, of course, is no longer the case with the Lakers. There are times when he is the focal point of their offense, but many more times when he is not.
"Now I’m not the every-possession guy coming down the court," he said. "I’m able to see the game from a different perspective."
Anthony said he loves what the Knicks have been doing under Leon Rose, his former agent turned team executive, and coach Tom Thibodeau. And he continues to love Knicks fans.
Said Anthony: "This is home. I have a fan base here, my son goes to school here, I lived here. I think what I represented here was bigger than basketball, bigger than sports. It’s hard to explain unless you are in New York and really feel it. It’s that energy."
An energy that certainly will be on full display when Anthony is introduced Tuesday in a Lakers uniform.