The New York Knicks fans who flocked to Philips Arena on Wednesday night to show their support for the visiting team didn’t get much of a chance to cheer on Carmelo Anthony. The All-Star forward exited early — nearly two and a half quarters early, in fact — after receiving a flagrant foul-2 for hitting Atlanta Hawks swingman Thabo Sefolosha in the face while fighting for a rebound.

The play took place with just over three minutes remaining in the second quarter of Wednesday’s contest, with the Hawks holding a three-point lead:


As Knicks reserve Justin Holiday launched a 3-pointer from the left wing, Anthony and Sefolosha began to fight for position on the right-hand side of the rim. With the ball in the air, Anthony put his left hand up on Sefolosha’s throat, then swung his right arm over Thabo’s head to try to move in front of him. As New York center Joakim Noah came down with the offensive rebound, Anthony extended his right arm, smacking Sefolosha in the jaw and pushing him backward.

That, somewhat understandably, angered the typically mild-mannered Swiss national, who responded by pushing Anthony. Before an altercation could pop off, though, referees and teammates got in the middle of it, separating the two players — who continued to jaw, but outside of swingin’ distance — and slapping both of them with technical fouls before heading to the video monitors to review the play, with the aid of the officials at the Replay Center in Secaucus, N.J.

Upon review, the officials judged Anthony’s shot to Sefolosha’s head to constitute “unnecessary and excessive” contact, prompting them to assess a flagrant-2, which brings with it an automatic ejection.

Anthony finished with 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting, five rebounds and one assist in 15 minutes of playing time. It’s his second ejection of the season, tying him with Washington Wizards point guard John Wall for the league lead. The first came in a Nov. 11 loss to the Boston Celtics, which Melo’s wife later claimed came as a result of a personal issue that referee Tony Brothers has with Anthony. Brothers denied that. We’ll wait with bated breath to find out whether the Anthony family believes this, too, to be the product of a conspiracy … or if they’ll just cop to Melo popping Thabo in the head.

With Anthony out of the lineup, the Knicks often struggled to score, but also played a more active and inspired brand of defense than they’ve offered for much of the season. The Hawks also struggled with consistency on both ends of the floor, though, producing a back-and-forth contest that went into overtime, with Atlanta pulling out a 102-98 win thanks to 27 points from guard Dennis Schröder, a 16-point, 22-rebound double-double from Dwight Howard, and a couple of untimely late miscues by New York’s Derrick Rose (who slipped and committed a turnover with the Knicks down by one with six seconds remaining) and Kristaps Porzingis (who missed a pair of free throws after being fouled while taking a 3-pointer with the Knicks down by three and three seconds left). The Hawks improved to 16-16, while New York fell to 16-15. [/restrict]