10:01 am Jan. 8, 2013
The New York Knicks, and their star Carmelo Anthony, have won games this season with a very simple formula.
Unless and until the opposition is able to stop Anthony, he continues to shoot and score. Thirteen 30-point games this season have come from Anthony; the Knicks are 9-4 in those games.
When defenses manage to corral Anthony, he finds his teammates to punish those schemes with open shots. Anthony has had fewer than 30 points in 15 games this season; the Knicks are 11-4 in those games, and Anthony managed to shoot better than 40 percent in 12 of the 15 contests.
The only real way to derail the Knicks, then, is to find a way to get to Anthony, forcing him out of his season-long comfort zone.
Monday night at Madison Square Garden, the Boston Celtics did that, and won, 102-96.
While the Boston defense forced Anthony into a season-worst 6-for-26 from the field, they did more than just prevent Anthony from scoring at his customary levels. Anthony was out of control, taking ten mostly forced shots in the fourth quarter, making just two of them. He jawed with Kevin Garnett until he earned a technical. And when the game was over, he ran not to the Knicks' locker room, but to Boston's, and even waited for Garnett by the Boston team bus. He then left without speaking to reporters.
It was as if this entire season, one in which Anthony has played like one of the best players in the league while serving as his team's constant, had never happened.
Even a mediocre Anthony performance would have been plenty to give the Knicks a win. The Knicks outrebounded the Celtics, 42-36. They shot better than 43 percent from three-point range. J.R. Smith and Tyson Chandler had prototypical games. Only Anthony's play kept them from a routine home win over a division rival, a stark role reversal of the entire season.
The Knicks have displayed a tendency to get thrown off their game before by physical play, notably against the Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls. But all the arguing about whether Anthony was right or wrong to stand up for himself, and speculation about what Garnett might have said to him, is beside the point. If words, or physical play, is enough to get the Knicks away from the equation that has led them to a record among the league's elites, they have a defining flaw that will keep them from serious contention.
The silver lining could be that by discovering this early, and finding a way to deal with it, the Knicks can manage such games once the playoffs bring them with regularity.
How much Anthony and the Knicks learned from Monday night will be on display Friday, when they host the Bulls at Madison Square Garden. (That's assuming Anthony isn't suspended for his actions.) Whether they win or lose won't be the test; it will be how intelligently they manage to play the game.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
The Mets plan to replace an R.A. Dickey-type with a Carl Pavano-type.