‘How bout those Knicks?’: At the Barclays Center, Carmelo Anthony buys in, and dominates
Tuesday night's 100-97 victory by the New York Knicks over the Brooklyn Nets was a game the Knicks couldn't possibly have won with Carmelo Anthony.
Not that the crowd minded much. For all the talk about making the Barclays Center a true home court for the Nets, it just isn't there yet when the Knicks come to town. Chants of "De-Fense!" for the Knicks and "M-V-P!" for Anthony were at near-Madison Square Garden levels, if still a bit shy of a true Knicks home game, or even last season in Newark. But this voice vote of Knicks-Nets preferences wasn't close enough to require a roll call.
Those sympathetic Knicks fans saw something miraculous from Anthony, even by the high standards he has set for himself this year. He didn't just score 45 points; he scored an easy 45 points, within the flow of an offense, despite most of that offense deserting him.
Witness the Knicks: they have four double-figure scorers this year, Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith.
Felton shot 3-for-12, turned the ball over seven times, and was nearly as ineffective as he was during the first game in Brooklyn. Smith battled back spasms all night.
And Chandler had perhaps his worst game of the season, failing to record a point or rebound until the three-minute mark of the first half, and performing unusually poorly on both ends of the floor all night.
That carried over into the kind of defense that allowed the Nets to outscore the Knicks in the paint, 48-20, and get shots at the basket at will. Teams with that kind of access to high-percentage shots rarely lose.
Nor were the Knicks picked up by three-point specialist Steve Novak, who didn't have one, or by starter Ronnie Brewer, who shot 0-for-4.
But wait, there's more. Many of the Nets were terrific on Tuesday. Andray Blatche was dominant for much of the game, scoring 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting. Reggie Evans had 18 rebounds; the entire Knicks team had just 35. Joe Johnson scored 16 points, and when he sat, MarShon Brooks added nine on 4-for-5 shooting. Deron Williams had 18 points and 10 assists.
The Nets led 21-5 at the start, 37-21 in the second quarter, 76-67 in the third and 87-81 in the fourth.
And yet, despite all of this, a Jason Kidd three-pointer with 16 seconds left gave the Knicks the win. Williams, and Gerald Wallace (another Net who played well, scoring 17 points on eight shots) missed threes to tie the game. Whichever Nets fans were present, who hadn't stood at the ends of the third quarter despite repeated exhortations from the Barclays public address announcer to "Stand up, Brooklyn! Stand up!" were seated, while most of the arena rose and roared, Manhattan-style.
Kidd was the other primary reason the Knicks managed to pull out a game with so many factors going against them. He hit six of his eight three-point attempts, taking advantage of the Nets' inability to shut down both Kidd and Novak's open looks.
And Smith, despite those back spasms, created just enough offense to keep the Nets from completely collapsing on Anthony, scoring 16 points while playing effective defense against both Johnson and Williams at various points.
But Anthony was the best player on the court, and by a wide margin. His 45 points came on just 24 shots. He scored 13 of the Knicks' final 19 points of the game, outscoring the Nets' entire team, 13-8, over the final 7:28 of the game. He did so facing defense primarily from Gerald Wallace, a gifted defender. And not one of Anthony's attempts all night was forced; when the Nets did manage to make life difficult for him late, he found a teammate, the ball eventually ending up in Kidd's hands for a three both times.
"How 'bout those Knicks?" coach Mike Woodson said just after the game with a smile, surrounded by a swarm of reporters in a narrow corridor within the bowels of the Barclays Center. "They played great. We got to battle back, to give ourselves a chance to win, and then guys just stepped up and made plays."
Guys like Anthony, for instance.
"Hey, he's the M.V.P.," Woodson said simply. "He's playing at such a high level."
Interestingly, even Nets coach Avery Johnson, seeing his team lose for the fifth straight time, didn't sound upset with his team so much as simply willing to acknowledge they were no match for Anthony.
"There were two or three, or four times, they were losing, and he made us pay," Johnson said from the podium of his postgame press conference.
But Johnson had high praise for his team's own work in defeat.
"I'm really proud of it," Johnson said about his team's effort. "We were tough, tough-minded. Just wish we could have scored a little more in the fourth quarter."
Stopping Anthony wasn't simply a matter of better execution, then; it wasn't possible on this night.
The visiting Knicks' locker room was a joyous, overcrowded place. Players hardly had room to change, but no one seemed to mind. Rasheed Wallace and Raymond Felton appraised Kurt Thomas' attire, largely approving. Anthony moved to a side wall to accomodate all the microphones and cameras, dressed in a stylish brown leather and suede vest.
As he began to discuss his night, Chandler returned from the inner room of the locker room, one off-limits to reporters, chanting to the same tune as the constant Nets chant of "Brooklyn", "Melo! Melo! Melo!"
Almost sheepishly, Anthony smiled and said, "Yo, I'm doing my interview, Tyson!"
Anthony got to see the extent to which he still played the hero, even though on the Knicks' final possession, he gave up the ball and Kidd made the game-winner.
"That's why we got him here," Anthony said. "That's why we wanted him."
And maybe that was the biggest takeaway of all from the win: just how dominant Carmelo Anthony can be, even without forcing the action.
The Knicks took plenty of criticism for loading up the team that will, for better or worse, be Carmelo Anthony's supporting cast for the duration of his current contract. But if Jason Kidd was the only path to Carmelo Anthony learning to share, it was the right one to take, as surely as downgrading from Jeremy Lin's potential to the inconsistent quality of Raymond Felton worked, if it convinced Anthony to play defense. Anthony even did so Tuesday night, when most of his teammates struggled.
"Melo's our leading scorer, yes, but he's not doing it by himself," a reflective Rasheed Wallace said of the Knicks this season, sitting at his locker, his sore foot buried in a bucket of ice. "We've been through pretty much every situation, in a basketball game, throughout our careers. So we've seen games like tonight, being down big, and being able to come back and win."