10:45 am Dec. 14, 20121
In the Knicks' 116-107 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, Carmelo Anthony seemed, frighteningly, to be acting out Bernard King's career in microcosm.
The Lakers themselves, nominally guided by former Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, were really beside the point. This is no marquee match right now. The Lakers are still struggling mightily on defense, to the extent they're even trying. They are down two starters, but their real limitation is a barely perceptible willingness to rotate defensively, which is costly against most teams, and particularly against ones who pass as well as these Knicks do.
The Knicks were getting any shot they wanted, en route to shooting 61.4 percent overall in the first half. They were 8-for-14 from three-point range, 11-for-15 in the paint.
Were they unstoppable? It's not clear; no one was trying to stop them.
But Anthony, in particular, took fullest advantage. He's been great this season, but over the past two games, he's gone even beyond the standard he'd set in his first 20 games.
After 45 points in Tuesday night's win over the Brooklyn Nets, he scored 22 in the first quarter Thursday. The Lakers have been struggling, yes, but the Knicks took maximum advantage of those limitations. No team has scored more points in any quarter this season than the Knicks, who scored 41 in the first Thursday night. No one has scored more in a quarter this season, individually, than Anthony's 22.
Only the large Knicks lead, and a classy unwillingness from either coach Mike Woodson and Anthony himself, kept him from scoring at approximately these rates into the third quarter. Anthony rested for more than half of the second quarter, and took only a pair of shots in the third, while the other Knicks maintained pressure, and a steady lead, on the Lakers.
The Knicks have never really had a scorer perform at this level before. Anthony's Player Efficiency Rating so far this season is 26.1. If he maintained that for a full season, he'd have the highest mark in team history.
Just behind him, at 25.8, is Patrick Ewing's 1989-90 season. But Ewing, obviously, got to the similar value by playing a very different game. And just behind Ewing is Bernard King's 1984-95, when he finished at 25.2, mostly through an unstoppable combination of midrange shots and getting to the basket at will.
Then came the frightening foul on Anthony: not a dirty play at all, but a landing that Anthony couldn't cushion whatsoever. His left leg bent awkwardly beneath him, and he was in obvious pain as he got up, and shortly thereafter, headed back to the locker room with the training staff.
It looked like the way a magical Bernard King season long ago came to an end, not with the glory of a championship, or even a sustained playoff run, but on the floor late in a March game against the Kansas City Kings, King in agony, an era dead in an instant.
King's knee injury kept him out for the next two years; by the time he returned, he did so as a member of the Washington Bullets, the Knicks committed instead to building around Ewing.
It was a reminder of just how fleeting this all is. No one has since reached King's level of play with the Knicks in almost 30 years. And that the Knicks gave back nearly all of their 26-point lead to the Lakers reflects the extent to which this team, for all of its impressive parts, is built around Anthony at the center. No Anthony, and you get things like runs by the Los Angeles Lakers, 26 shots from Raymond Felton, and a team that has no pretense of contending.
The word came a few minutes later, after anxious fans peppered reporters with queries from the rafters; just a sprained left ankle. Anthony gave his postgame interview without need of crutches. He'll probably miss the next game, but it is the type of injury minor enough that the time horizon should be measured in days, not weeks, months or years.
Still, what should have been the kind of moment Knicks fans have had little chance to savor for a long, long time—a national television victory involving an overpaid and underachieving team that is not the Knicks—turned instead into an unpleasant reminder that an N.B.A. player's ascent to greatness may come crashing down each time he heads to the rim.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
The Yankees have agreed to a two-year, $13 million contract with Ichiro Suzuki.