10:12 am Jan. 28, 2013
In many games this season, Carmelo Anthony has been the primary reason the New York Knicks have won. Sunday night's 106-104 victory over the Atlanta Hawks was no different, with Anthony acting as the season's constant, demonstrating an improved ability for quick decision-making that's made him increasingly tough to guard.
Against the Hawks, a defense packed the lane to take away any pick-and-roll offense by the Knicks, while quick double teams against Anthony meant his shots had to come quick.
Anthony adjusted accordingly after some early misfires, hit nine three-pointers, and made a quick decision on the Knicks' final possession to earn a three-point play and seal the victory.
If the two skills seem unrelated, they aren't. What has made Anthony better than ever this year has been an ability to commit to whatever offensive strategy he'll be employing before the opposing defense gets set. Holding the ball, while defenses stayed on him, knowing he'd shoot, limited his effectiveness, even for a deadly finisher like Anthony. But when he acts quickly, defenses, frankly, don't have a chance.
Last night, many of Anthony's threes came, not after dribbling in isolation, but on either quick chances coming up the court, or immediate shots following a pass, often from Raymond Felton.
The final play happened in a similar fashion. The Knicks have given the ball to Anthony several times at the end of games this season, with mixed results. Usually, this has been because Anthony is dribbling in isolation, a defense is waiting for him, leaving Anthony out of options with a few seconds remaining, and his defender able to fully commit to contesting whichever shot is coming.
That's not what happened Sunday night. The Knicks inbounded the ball, and Anthony immediately went at Josh Smith, his bigger, stronger defender. Smith, caught off-guard by Anthony's drive, let him get to the basket, and committed a foul. The help defense, also surprised by the quick decision, came too late. Anthony made the layup, converted the free throw, and the Knicks held on for a win.
That Anthony is an elite scorer was well-known prior to this season. But that he can make such consistently good decisions, more quickly than he ever has in the past, has made him one of the league's most valuable players this year. And against the Hawks, an Eastern Conference contender, it was enough to give the Knicks a victory.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Two major weaknesses for the Nets contributed to a pair of losses this weekend; interior defense and ability to keep up with a fast pace.