Knicks teammates and Garden security guards greeted Anthony with handshakes and hugs during pregame warm-ups. But once the game began, the dynamic shifted, as Knicks fans got down to the business of rooting for their team. They did cheer Anthony when his first shot of the game, a 3-pointer, went in. But as the game progressed, and both teams took turns holding the first-half lead, Anthony heard jeers, too.
Anthony seemed to take it all in stride. But what he could not do was come up with a memorable performance. He and his Thunder teammates ran out of gas one night after playing, and winning, a triple-overtime game in Philadelphia. And so, not surprisingly, a 50-46 halftime lead for the Knicks became a 111-96 victory.
The result left the Knicks, who were led by Michael Beasley’s 30 points, with a four-game winning streak and a better-than-expected 16-13 record. And it left the Thunder with a sobering 14-15 mark and still trying to mesh Anthony and Paul George, its two star imports, with Russell Westbrook, the N.B.A.’s reigning most valuable player.
Against the Knicks, Anthony played 32 minutes and scored 12 points while making only 5 of 18 shots. He had done better the night before against the 76ers, scoring 24 points in 47 minutes and grabbing 7 rebounds.
But back-to-back games are never easy for a 33-year-old, even one with all the motivation Anthony no doubt had on Saturday night. His shot was mostly missing as the Knicks gradually pulled away in the second half.
Also absent on Saturday was Kristaps Porzingis, who has replaced Anthony as the Knicks’ go-to scorer but who sat out the game with a sore knee.
Anthony’s legacy with the Knicks is complicated. He led the Knicks to the playoffs several times in his six and a half seasons in New York but never beyond the second round. There was also a lot of losing mixed in; indeed, the Knicks won just 80 games over his last three seasons with the team.
Anthony also had to deal with a growing perception that he was too focused on scoring and having the ball in his hands, and too unwilling to change his style of play.
That stance led to the departure of one coach, Mike D’Antoni, and helped precipitate a battle of wills with Phil Jackson, the Knicks’ team president for about half of Anthony’s tenure.
Anthony won that feud, in that Jackson was pushed out in June while Anthony remained with the Knicks. But just months later, Anthony agreed to leave New York in a trade to the Thunder.
All of which led to Saturday night and Anthony’s return. On Friday night, in Philadelphia, he spoke briefly about his time in New York and hinted at what he hoped his reception would be when he got to the Garden.
“It’s not like I was there a season or two seasons,” he said. “I spent a lot of time there — almost seven years. It was great times, bad times. Regardless, I stuck with it. I always remained professional. I came and did my job whether they liked it or not. Hopefully, they recognize that.”
The fans did, with their salute before the game. But then reality, and fatigue, set in. And Anthony, in the Garden, was once again on the wrong end of the final score.