"Coming out of halftime, we said we just need one run to just separate ourselves," Anthony said.
But to win it, they needed Anthony to grab one big rebound against a bigger front line, then hit a couple of finishing free throws.
Anthony scored 13 of his 34 points in the third, then put it away with two free throws with 2.9 seconds left as the Knicks handed the Pistons a season-high fifth straight loss with an 89-85 victory on Tuesday night.
Raymond Felton finished with 12 points and six assists in his return from injury for the Knicks, who came home from a 2-1 Texas swing and held on after blowing most of the 17-point lead they built while outscoring the Pistons 32-17 in the third quarter.
The Pistons were 3 of 19 on 3-pointers and badly missed reserve guard Rodney Stuckey, who missed his third straight game with a sore shoulder, because starters Brandon Jennings and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shot a combined 3 for 18.
"We had a very good effort," coach Maurice Cheeks said. "We were able to fight back, but we couldn't make any shots at the end."
Anthony finally brought some offense to an ugly game in the third. He drilled three in a row from behind the arc, the first two from nearly the same spot in front of old teammate and current Pistons assistant coach Rasheed Wallace, to make it 58-49. Felton followed with a jumper before Anthony dunked to cap a 15-0 spurt and give the Knicks a 62-49 advantage.
Jennings ended the run with Detroit's first 3-pointer of the game, but Amare Stoudemire and Anthony had baskets before Iman Shumpert converted a three-point play when Greg Monroe made a feeble attempt to foul him, as the lead ballooned to 69-52.
The Pistons had six baskets and seven turnovers in the period, which ended with the Knicks leading 73-58.
Detroit put together an 11-3 run to cut it to 86-85 on Charlie Villanueva's free throw with 46 seconds left. The Pistons got a chance for the lead after Anthony was charged with an offensive foul, but Smith was woefully short on a jumper with 9.9 seconds left that Cheeks wished had been a drive to the basket instead.
"I didn't get the shot I wanted. I'm still beating myself up for that," Smith said. "I could've been a little more aggressive and try to put the initiative on the referees to make a call. It was a shot that is definitely going to be with me until the next game so I can get it out of my head."
Felton was fouled and missed the second free throw, but Anthony came away with the rebound, was fouled and made both.
Felton played for just the second time in 14 games, having strained his right groin on Dec. 23 in his return from a six-game absence with a strained left hamstring. He was perhaps fatigued down the stretch, making a pair of turnovers that nearly cost the Knicks.
"We got a win, that's the main thing," Felton said.
The Knicks jumped to a 16-8 lead in the first 5 1/2 minutes before the messiness ensued. New York shot just 33 percent from the field in the first half and was only 4 of 9 from the free throw line, yet was able to manage a 41-all tie. The Pistons' backcourt did its part to help the Knicks, with Jennings and Caldwell-Pope combining to go 0 for 8 and Chauncey Billups coming off the bench to miss all three of his attempts. The Pistons were 0 of 8 from 3-point range in the half.
Detroit fell to 6-1 against the Atlantic Division. ... Knicks forward Metta World Peace said he expected to miss two weeks after having an unspecified procedure on both knees Monday. ... Knicks coach Mike Woodson said guard Pablo Prigioni, out since breaking a toe on Dec. 16, got more treatment Tuesday and the team would have a better feel for his status Wednesday.