The penalty was one of the harshest the league has levied against a player for on-court fighting. Commissioner David Stern said he was attempting to send a message that brawling won't be tolerated in the NBA.
"It is our obligation to take the strongest possible steps to avoid such failures in the future," he said.
The league also suspended Nuggets guard J.R. Smith for 10 games, Knicks guard Nate Robinson for 10 games, Knicks guard Mardy Collins for six games, Knicks forward Jared Jeffries for four games and Nuggets forward Nene and Knicks center Jerome James one game each for leaving the bench. The league fined the Knicks and Nuggets $500,000 each.
The incident began late in the game when Collins caught Smith on a breakaway and fouled him hard around the neck. The two players went chest to chest, and others, such as Robinson and Jeffries, crowded around. Anthony then thrust himself into the pack and after Robinson and Smith tumbled to the ground, he exchanged heated words with Collins. Several assistant coaches tried to pull Anthony away, but as he backed up he fired a roundhouse right that landed on the side of Collins' head.
Stern seemed to address Anthony's actions directly when he said, "Players must take advantage of pauses in a heated situation to stop and restore order instead of escalating."
When asked if Anthony's run of excellent play and community service, including opening a new youth center in his hometown of Baltimore, mitigated his actions in the brawl, Stern said no.
"We judged him on his actions on the court, period," the commissioner said. "As a personal matter, I think he's doing great, but that's separate and apart. ... He did what he did, and he has to accept responsibility for it."
Because he received a suspension of more than 12 games, Anthony can seek arbitration to get the penalty reduced. He has not announced whether he will.
The brawl was the worst the NBA has experienced since a November 2004 melee between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons spilled into the stands. In the wake of that incident, Stern raised the minimum age to enter the league's draft, imposed a dress code and encouraged referees to crack down on in-game displays of outrage.
Asked yesterday if the league still has an image problem, he said, "If you ask the question, then we have an image issue."
One of the fascinating subplots of the incident was the suggestion by several Nuggets sources that Knicks coach Isiah Thomas warned Anthony against driving to the basket late in the game. Some expected Thomas to be punished along with the players.
But Stern said the fines against each team shouldn't be taken as a verdict against Thomas or Denver coach George Karl.
"It's a more general message that we're going to start holding teams accountable for the actions of their players," he said.
Thomas said he was surprised that Karl kept four starters on the court with the game already out of hand. Karl responded with harsh words during a shootaround yesterday.
"I think his actions after the game were despicable," he said of Thomas. "He made a bad situation worse. I'll swear on my children's life that I never thought about running up the score. I wanted to get a big win on the road."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.