NEW YORK – Twice in the final minute-and-a half when the Knicks needed a basket, Carmelo Anthony had the ball in his hands. Exactly what the Knicks want, right?
Most of the time. But not all of the time. And as it turned out, not Friday night against the one team above all others the Knicks can’t beat – the team with the worst record in the NBA.
The Knicks were barely a .500 team when they traded for Anthony, and that’s exactly what they are since the trade – 3-3. The one constant, going back to the days when LeBron James wore No. 23 Cavs attire, is that the Knicks can’t beat Cleveland. The old Knicks were 0-1 against them this season, the new Knicks are 0-2, and Knicks of all shapes and sizes are 0-11 against Cleveland since Dec. 19, 2007.
“It’s a tough loss,” Anthony said. “I don’t want to say it’s embarrassing, but it’s a tough loss.”
Offense wasn’t the problem for the Knicks Friday night, not when they shot 55 percent from the field and lost 119-115. But the most telling sequence came at the end, when the ball was in Anthony’s hands twice with the game on the line – and twice, one of the most feared clutch scorers in the game didn’t deliver while another feared clutch scorer could only watch.
With the score tied 110-110 after J.J. Hickson’s driving layup with 1:41 left, Anthony brought the ball up and had it on the wing. Amar’e Stoudemire, who had 36 points at the time, started coming over to set a screen. Anthony threw up a stop sign – the Knicks’ new leading man waving off the old leading man with the game on the line.
In the pre-Melo days, this would be time for a pick-and-roll for Stoudemire – one of the great finishers in the game and the NBA’s leading fourth-quarter scorer. But these are the uncharted waters the Knicks are wading in now that they’ve added Anthony, who is cut from the Kobe Bryant cloth when it comes to crunch time.
Ultimately, Anthony made the right basketball play – kicking to Shawne Williams for an open 3-pointer that went in but didn’t count because Anthony was whistled for an offensive foul. What would’ve happened if Stoudemire had come over to set that screen and rolled to the basket for a potential layup, Mike D’Antoni will never know.
“They’ve got to figure that out,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll figure it out, but an iso with Carmelo is one of the best in the league. Look at the stats – last quarter, fourth quarter over the last 10 years, I think he’s No. 1 in percentage of making shots, so that’s good. Amar’e having the ball in his hands is good. That’s not going to be a problem.”
Anthony said he waved Stoudemire off because the Cavs were in the same defense they were in on a prior possession, when they ran pick-and-roll and kicked out of it for a missed jumper. But it was a problem again on the Knicks’ final possession, when Anthony drove the lane, missed a layup, and got called for another charge.
“I guess it was an offensive foul,” Anthony said. “He called it. I saw the lane, and I wasn’t going to settle for a jump shot at that point. I saw a path, I went, and he took a big charge.”
In that situation, with seven seconds left and the Knicks trailing 117-115, it’s all Anthony, all the time. There’s no time to wait for a Stoudemire pick-and-roll to develop. So when you have one of the best one-on-one scorers alive, you put the ball in his hands and take your chances. Unlike some so-called superstars in this league, Anthony will never shy away from that moment.
The earlier situation could’ve gone either way. And that – along with something called defense – is what the Knicks (31-29) are trying to figure out with 22 games to go.
This being New York, some hysterics already are plunging off the bandwagon as if the bandwagon just hit an enormous pothole. That’s just silly. It’s preposterous to expect a scorer of Anthony’s stature to do anything but try to score with the game on the line in the last two minutes – especially considering he took exactly half as many shots from the field as Stoudemire. Anthony’s 29 points came on 10-for-16 shooting, while Stoudemire equaled his season high with 41 points and was 16 for 32 from the field.
Is it panic time for the new Knicks? Hardly. They’re about as mediocre and inconsistent as they were before the trade, except they now have not one, but two of the best scorers in the game -- and, by the way, didn't have Chauncey Billups Friday night. They have to figure out who’s turn it is, and when. But if anyone was expecting it not to be Anthony’s turn in the final two minutes of the game when the Knicks need a basket, they’re going to be disappointed again and again.