Carmelo Anthony was having one of those days for the Knicks: 20 points in the first half, 18 in the third quarter. Caron Butler, the Clippers small forward who had much of the early defensive responsibility against Anthony, was scratched at halftime with a back issue. Matt Barnes got roasted guarding Anthony, so the Clippers turned to the venerable Grant Hill.

And how did that go?

“Grant was the difference in the game,” said Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro.

Hill made the differences in the benches of the two powerful teams even more pronounced while helping to limit Anthony to just four fourth-quarter points in the Clippers’ 102-88 victory yesterday at the Garden.

After all, the matchup of Sixth Man Award candidates, Knick J.R. Smith (1-of-9 shooting, six points) and Clipper Jamal Crawford (12-of-22 shooting, 27 points) was a mismatch of Alabama-Notre Dame proportions.

The Clippers’ reserves outscored the Knicks’ subs, 48-15. It helped that the Clippers have Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups back starting, though they are on minutes restrictions. Their presence lengthens the rotation and deepens the bench.

“Everybody contributed,” Crawford said. “Grant Hill sits the whole game and comes in ... nobody can stop Melo, but he made things pretty difficult. We probably don’t win that game without him.”

Nor do they win without Crawford, who loves playing at the Garden, the joint where he labored for four-plus seasons.

“[It] will always have a special place in my heart,” Crawford said. “I spent more time here than anyplace else and I went from a young guy to a man here.”

It also is the place where Anthony yesterday went from irresistible force for three quarters to stoppable object in the fourth. In 10 fourth-quarter minutes, Anthony got off just two shots. Hill joked he predicted a shutdown effort.