Carmelo Anthony was ejected just over three minutes before halftime during the Knicks' 102-98 overtime loss to the Hawks on Wednesday night.
Anthony had been called for a double technical foul along with Thabo Sefolosha of the Hawks, took it a step further by throwing a punch at Sefolosha.
Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek told reporters he doesn't blame Anthony for swinging at Sefolosha, saying Sefolosha had his hands around Anthony's neck.
"He threw a punch," Sefolosha said, according to the NY Post. "A fist right to my face. It's whatever. The referee -- I'm glad they looked back at it -- they made the right call."
Kristaps Porzingis struggled after Anthony's ejection, with Atlanta able to zero in on him.
As the Knicks battled the Hawks into the second quarter on Wednesday, there looked to be a positive outcome in sight. Anthony had quickly found an offensive rhythm, scoring 10 points in just 15 minutes. He and New York looked to be on their way.
But Anthony's ejection changed everything. As the Knicks looked to replace his production, things became much more difficult for those who usually benefit from playing off of him -- especially Porzingis.
Without Anthony, Porzingis became a much easier target for the defense to contend. Porzingis had difficulty getting shots off while serving as the defense's primary concern. Of course, the big man is already one of the NBA's best catch-and-shoot players. He can rattle off long range shots and beat opposing defenses with fast break opportunities.
The four three-point field goals he did make came mostly in transition. Nevertheless, Porzingis shot 3-of-9 from inside and committed five turnovers. Whereas a player like Anthony normally draws defenders his way to open up more opportunities for Porzingis, the sophomore forward clearly wasn't afforded the same luxury while shouldering the Knicks' offensive burden. There wasn't as much spacing and Porzingis struggled to make contested shots.
As much as a revelation as Porzingis has been this season, Wednesday's contest was indicative of how crucial Anthony is -- not only to the Knicks' offense, but to the young gun's success. The fact that Atlanta is a very physical team didn't help matters in this case. Porzingis was challenged and looked fatigued throughout the overtime matchup. Perhaps that also played into his missed free-throw with the game on the line.
Not having Anthony on the court forced the Knicks to look Porzingis' way much earlier and more often. And there wasn't enough time each possession for him to get set up and find rhythm in the pick and roll with Rose.
Rose had his own problems, often swarmed inside and unable to get off quality shots. Still, Atlanta's ability to crowd him and cut off potential passing lanes also limited the high percentage opportunities Porzingis was presented with to score the basketball.
The good news is that following a loss like that, the Knicks' identity becomes much more clear. The players thrive off one another. The pressure each offensive weapon puts on the defense creates space. This leaves room for Rose to penetrate and look for the likes of Anthony, Porzingis, and others to cash in on open looks thereafter.
The bad news is that it's much more difficult to simply "replace" the offense a player like Anthony provides. Porzingis may be the more versatile offensive player, but he struggles as the primary target.