ATLANTA • There were a number of pronouncements this week that the New York Knicks needed to be more assertive and defensive.
And, after Carmelo Anthony asserted himself with an elbow that got him ejected on Wednesday, it became all the more necessary for the Knicks to play better defence.
The nine-time All-Star was tossed out in the second quarter, with the Knicks trailing by three points, for elbowing the Atlanta Hawks' Thabo Sefolosha in the face as they jostled while anticipating a rebound.
Anthony did not speak to the media afterwards, but Sefolosha pulled no metaphorical punches.
"He punched me," the Swiss said, according to ESPN. "That was a fist right to my face."
It was the second ejection this season for Anthony, the previous coming against the Boston Celtics on Nov 11.
His ejection came after a spiteful game on Tuesday between the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks finished with eight flagrant fouls called.
But, despite Anthony being sent off, the Knicks did not retreat.
Instead, they jammed passing lanes and contested shots and grabbed loose balls as they wrestled to make up for the loss of Anthony's scoring punch. It almost worked.
The spirited Knicks, already without starting guard Courtney Lee before Anthony's ejection, lost in overtime, 98-102. It was the offence that cost them this time.
Derrick Rose scored 26 points for New York, and Kristaps Porzingis contributed 24, although he missed a crucial foul shot in the closing seconds of overtime.
Despite faltering down the stretch, the Knicks finally looked alive on defence and on the boards.
"I thought it was a step forward for us," Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. "Simply because we played pretty good defence, we made it tough on them. For the most part, our guys were really getting after it defensively."
The Knicks trailed by six points in overtime with 1min 59sec to play but fought back to within 97-98.
Rose pivoted along the left baseline with the ball but turned it over with eight seconds left.
Dennis Schroder made two free throws to increase the Hawks' lead to 100-97, but the Knicks had one more chance.
Justin Holiday inbounded to Porzingis, who faked Sefolosha into the air at the top of the key and drew a foul while shooting a three with 3.6 seconds remaining.
But Porzingis missed the first free throw. He made the second, but the Knicks were sunk.
NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS