As Anthony plotted his getaway to the New York Knicks, the plan had long been to manufacture a 'Melo mythology on the world's biggest, brightest basketball stage. Here he was playing the part of the transcendent franchise star, daring to destroy these Boston Celtics beneath the 17 championship banners. Down goes Chauncey Billups(notes) and Amar'e Stoudemire(notes), and still 'Melo wouldn't let go of this forever franchise's throat, wouldn't let the Celtics out of Game 2 without raining down pure mayhem.
From everywhere on the floor, the ball kept dropping into the basket. He rebounded. He blocked shots. He passed to cutting teammates. This had been a clinic of impressive proportion, 'Melo gone mad with 42 points, 17 rebounds and six assists. Even with a pedestrian cast of Knicks misfits, he had resurrected the ghosts of Bernard King. Circumstances called for 'Melo to be magnificent, and he was mesmerizing until the final moments of the Celtics' 96-93 victory.
And once again, this was enough for Carmelo Anthony. Once again, he still doesn't understand that a superstar's code calls for different disposition when a losing playoff night is over. Whatever he's done, it isn't enough. Let everyone else praise you, but the superstar doesn't take bows when his team is down 2-0 in a series where he ended one game missing 10 of 11 shots.
“It was fun,” 'Melo said late Tuesday.
Yes, the Knicks had so much reason to be proud, but let's face it, after getting ripped in the New York tabloids for such a poor Game 1 performance, 'Melo's debriefing on Game 2 had an unmistakable message to it: Too bad we lost, but you can't blame me for it. If Anthony wants everyone else to regard him as one of the sport's superstars, he needs to hold himself to the standard that comes with it.
He never acted like a leader in Denver, and nothing's changed in New York. He had come to New York, because he said he wanted to be a winner. He wanted championships. So, the Knicks lose a playoff game, and 'Melo can't stop insisting that he made the right play by giving up the ball with a chance for victory. The Knicks lose a playoff game, but 'Melo explains he was too tired to chase down and foul a Celtics player dribbling out the clock on the victory.
When Anthony had a chance to close out the game, he made the safest possible play to ultimately deflect criticism, the one that deep down he knew would free him of blame when it predictably crumbled.
What he needed to say was that he left two plays on the floor in the final seconds, and the Knicks needed more out of him with Stoudemire and Billups reduced to spectators. He's done little to shed his rep in Denver, which is this: Nothing’s as important as scoring, stats and status. Mostly, 'Melo was glad he wouldn't wake up and see himself roasted on the back pages of the tabloids.
Everyone understood Big Baby Davis would blitz Anthony on the final Knicks possession, with them trailing 94-93, and as Ray Allen(notes) told Yahoo! Sports later: “It was interesting, because we had to wonder: When we went at him, was he going to give the ball up?”
It was 'Melo and four bench players on the floor, and it didn't matter that he had found several of them for assists in the fourth quarter. Everything changes with the game on the line, and 'Melo had to choose without a moment's notice: Could I split the defenders and bet on myself or give the ball to Jared Jeffries(notes) because he happened to be open?
Anthony passed to Jared Jeffries near the basket, and Jeffries tried to pass to Bill Walker(notes) to beat the Boston Celtics in an NBA playoff game. Walker had taken 11 shots, and missed 11 shots. Jeffries' pass never made it past Kevin Garnett(notes), who stole the ball and leapt onto the floor to gather it.
“I made the right play,” Anthony said. “The right play was to go to Jared. … I thought Jared was going to lay it up … I made the right play so I can live with that.”
When the ball leaves your hands for Jeffries, what he does with it is your responsibility. That's how it works. Here's something that would never, ever happen: There wasn't a Boston Celtics star who would've let such a brilliant individual performance overshadow a playoff loss. Kobe Bryant(notes) wouldn't do it. LeBron James(notes) wouldn't do it. Derrick Rose(notes). And on and on.
This series is far from over, but 'Melo needed to let everyone else celebrate this magnificent performance and hold himself to a higher standard, a superstar's standard. And that isn't going, 'Hey, I gave the ball to a lousy player, who made a lousy decision so how's that on me?' And that isn't letting the clock tick down with the final seconds bleeding away.
Despite the cast of characters on the floor, Game 2 had played out with a chance for the Knicks to steal a victory. And they didn't do it. When the game was over, Anthony couldn't stop congratulating Doc Rivers for diagramming a marvelous play to run out the clock. With four seconds left and the Celtics holding a 94-93 lead, the Knicks believed the ball would get inbounded to Ray Allen, a career 90 percent free-throw shooter in the playoffs.
Only, Rivers had the ball thrown into the backcourt to guard Delonte West(notes). Yes, it was a wise move, but this doesn't explain why 'Melo, the closest Knick, hesitated before chasing West down to foul him. Once Anthony reached him, West had bled the clock to six-tenths of a second. Once West made the two free throws, the Knicks were out of timeouts to advance the ball to midcourt and try to run a last-second play. That's on coach Mike D'Antoni again in this series, but a superstar can't sell the world on the idea that he was too tired to chase down a foul with the game ticking away.
“I couldn't get out there," Anthony said. "I don't want to fall flat, now.”
The rest of the Knicks confessed: They never saw the play coming. “We weren't prepared for that,” Jeffries said. Yet, there were four seconds on the clock when the ball was thrown into play and six-tenths left once 'Melo finally found his way to West. Sorry, but "I was tired" doesn't cut it. These are the issues of Basketball IQ that cost you when you're trying to beat the Celtics and Spurs and Lakers.
Yes, this was a gallant performance out of Anthony, out of these undermanned Knicks. The Celtics aren't playing well now. They've executed in the final minutes, survived Games 1 and 2, but they'll probably come back to Boston for Game 5 with the series 2-2. Unless Stoudemire's back doesn't allow him to return this weekend, the Celtics won't make it out of a rocking Madison Square Garden with complete control of the series.
So yes, Anthony will come back to Boston with a chance to steal Game 5, to maybe yet steal this series. When Game 2 was over, Anthony told his teammates in the locker room that “Boston didn't do anything but take care of home court.'”
'Melo seemed far too glad to take the praise for playing so brilliantly with such a skeleton crew on the floor. These series are won in the telltale moments at the end, and the Knicks had chances in Games 1 and 2 to get out of Boston with a victory. So much comes with a superstar's job, and it doesn't end with a magical box score to frame for your home study.
Carmelo Anthony says this was a lot of fun, but champions don't find joy in statistics that spare them the tabloids' wrath. They come to take everything, and they're miserable unless they do. Anthony's never been that superstar, never embraced that burden, that mindset.
He's an epic talent, but he can still be more, and that can still happen in these playoffs. The time's now. Far, far from the sweet cocoon of his old Rocky Mountain home, 'Melo's new address demands it.
- Carmelo Anthony