NBA guys hug weird. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
When the New York Knicks visit the TD Garden to take on the Boston Celtics in a nationally televised game on Thursday night, it'll be the two Atlantic Division foes' first meeting since the Jan. 7 contest in Manhattan that saw stars Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett engage in a heated and highly publicized physical and verbal battle. The ongoing trash talk, allegedly initiated by the Celtics big man, got the New York forward off his game, resulting in a poor Anthony finish that helped Boston score a road win and led to scuffles both on the court and off it. Speculation about what insult(s) raised Anthony's ire has raged for two weeks, and with the teams set to renew tensions in Boston tonight, it seems unlikely that anything else will be the primary topic of conversation in the hours before game time.
After learning that they'd each won starting frontcourt spots for the Eastern Conference All-Star team last week, Garnett said he believed he and Melo "are fine" and didn't "anticipate any friction" moving forward. Anthony, for his part, echoed similar sentiments this week, according to ESPN New York's Ian Begley:
"It's no bad blood, no grudges between us (or) anything like that," Anthony said after practice on Wednesday. "I don't hold no grudges or have any bad blood towards the guy." [...]
Anthony doesn't anticipate any carryover from his confrontation with Garnett.
"On my end, there's nothing left over," he said on Tuesday.
Of course, whether or not the individuals involved in the initial imbroglio harbor any residual ill will, Anthony still must face the partisan TD Garden crowd, which is sure to be champing at the bit to lob cereal-based gooves at him and, while not especially vicious, has a reputation for being a tough NBA crowd, as Tim Rohan of The New York Times writes:
What is part of the record, though, is that one of Anthony’s teammates, Jason Kidd, received very tough treatment in Boston during the 2002 postseason. Then the point guard and leader of a vibrant New Jersey Nets team, Kidd heard chants of “wife beater” from Celtics fans, who were intent on delivering a nasty reminder that Kidd, nearly a year and a half earlier, had been arrested on a charge of spousal abuse involving his wife, Joumana, to whom he is no longer married.
Joumana Kidd was in attendance in Boston as the shouts came from the stands. So was their son, T. J., who was then 3. [...]
When asked about that incident this week, Kidd said: “No matter what they scream or what is done, you have to go out and play. If you have rabbit ears, it may get to you, but if you don’t, it’s just another game on the road.”
Referring to Anthony and what might await him in Boston on Thursday, Kidd added: “He’s one of the top players in the world. He’s been heckled on the road before, in college and now in the N.B.A. It’s nothing new.”
And yet, the extent to which Anthony can withstand heckling, both from the stands and on the floor, has come into question since the incident with Garnett.
That's thanks in large part to the revelation that Knicks owner James Dolan decided after the Celtics game to begin having MSG Network personnel use parabolic microphones to record everything said to and by Anthony during games, presumably in the interest of having documentation if/when opponents cross some imaginary line of decency and comportment in mid-game trash talk. Anthony said he had no idea Dolan was doing it, but didn't mind his owner looking out for him; NBA Commissioner David Stern said he had no issue with Dolan's choice, so long as no "Spygate"-style eavesdropping in huddles or opposing locker rooms was being done. (The practice has since reportedly been discontinued.)
Though the recording was reportedly done without Anthony's prior knowledge, it fueled the perception created by Anthony's poor post-Garnett-prodding performance — Anthony went 2 for 10 in the fourth quarter after KG riled him, including 2 for 7 from 3-point range, and seemed like he wanted every shot he took to be worth 1 million points and also to erase all traces of Garnett from the earth like Peppermint Altoids — that talk got under his skin enough to make those invested in his performance (like, say, the Knicks' owner) concerned. Likewise, Frank Isola's report in the New York Daily News that Anthony will be accompanied in Boston by a personal security guard — which Isola notes "is not uncommon for superstar players" in the NBA, for the Knicks as a team or for Anthony in particular — probably won't help Melo's public perception much.
More from Isola:
The reason for the extra security has nothing to do with Anthony possibly crossing paths in the hallways but rather the hostile crowd that awaits him at the Garden.
Celtics fans are some of the most passionate and sometimes crude fans in the league. Throw in the fact that Anthony has the words “New York” stitched on his uniform as well as the controversy of Jan. 7 and you have the ingredients for overzealous crowd. [...]
“That’s basically what we’re going to get,” Raymond Felton said. “We know it’s going to be hostile. There’s going to be a lot of crazy things thrown at us…not objects but words.”
You'd like to think Felton's right; then, you remember a Boston backer dumping a beer on LeBron James after the Heat beat the Celtics during last year's playoffs, and you realize you're maybe just hoping he is.
Ultimately, talk of bad blood, grudges, recordings and bodyguards deflects focus from the primary issue for Anthony — more shots taken and fewer shots made over the past month, as the Knicks have lost seven of 12 since Christmas morning and seen their division lead over the red-hot Brooklyn Nets dwindle to just a half-game.
The efficiency and impact have declined, the "top-five MVP candidate" talk has cooled and folks around the league are wondering if maybe this isn't just the same old Melo — and, by extension, same old Knicks — with a new early-season coat of paint. Anthony can go a long way toward proving those doubters wrong by staying true to his "no grudges" word, settling down his approach and letting his game do the talking; if he can't, the questions about whether he and the Knicks are for real will only grow louder.