BOSTON – Down to the floor the Boston Celtics' Kevin Garnett tumbled on Thursday night, a failed lob pass leaving him stretched out on the Garden court. Out of nowhere, a most improbable arm reached down, clasped Garnett's hand and lifted him back to his feet. Out of nowhere, the message was unmistakable: The New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony had come to beat Garnett with grace and guile, calm and composure.
"He fell," Anthony said later, "and I helped him up. I don't hold grudges."
Once, Anthony might have consumed himself with this feud, might have needed to validate an adolescent code and mete out some kind of retribution. Only, Anthony didn't come to Boston to escalate the embarrassing episode of Madison Square Garden. Anthony had come to eviscerate Garnett and an 11-game losing streak in the Boston Garden.
He had come to be a professional, a grown up and make no mistake: Carmelo Anthony had come a long, long way.
Seventeen days ago, Garnett had delivered onto Anthony one of his notoriously vile, personal on-court diatribes and made the man lose his mind. With too much on the line this season, too much possibility in the Knicks season, Anthony let Garnett take him out of a game, off the floor and all the way out to the Celtics bus.
So, Boston Garden security had to confiscate the predictable signs that Celtics fans planned to bring into the building. Red Auerbach would've allowed it, but he's gone, and a kinder Celtics regime wouldn't let those "Honey Nut Cheerios" signs into the Knicks' 89-86 victory on Thursday night.
This was a hard, humiliating lesson for Anthony, one that probably shouldn't have been needed so far into his NBA career. Shame on Garnett if he had again obliterated the lines of reasonable taste, but Anthony needed to understand something vital for the Knicks' chances of chasing a championship out of the Eastern Conference: No one and nothing should be able to deter him on this mission. If he wants to be an MVP candidate in the NBA – if he wants to elevate the Knicks over the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference – he can't let Garnett enrage him into 20 misses in Madison Square Garden, into a rampage out to the team bus that cost him a one-game suspension.
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant – superstars older and young – developed a fortification that would never allow Garnett to usurp them. That's still the issue. Beyond the Celtics, there are big, physical and mentally imposing teams in the East. They'll keep testing Anthony, keep pushing him to snap and he can't let it happen again.
"He responded exactly like he was supposed to," Knicks center Tyson Chandler said. ''The best way to get back is by getting a victory, especially in a place where we haven't won in a long time.'"
Eleven games had passed in Boston, and the Knicks hadn't won here. Now, they come with Chandler and Jason Kidd, with a re-emerging Amar'e Stoudemire and J.R. Smith. Now, they come with the best chance Anthony's had in his career to win a championship. He didn't shoot the ball well, but had 28 points and made the Celtics load up defensively on him.
Inside of the final minute on Thursday night, the Celtics had climbed within two points, the ball swung to Anthony and so did the double team. He didn't force a shot, but made the proper play. He passed, and soon the ball found J.R. Smith's hands for an open 3-pointer that ultimately secured the Knicks' victory.
"He trusts," Kidd said.
Anthony does trust these teammates, and this performance at the Garden gave them reason to trust him, too. This is his team, his time, and he had come to understand that his ultimate validation will come with keeping his mind and body right for a long, taxing journey. Looking back, Anthony believed his fasting had played a part with such an irritable, irrational response to Garnett at Madison Square Garden. He had eaten well on Thursday night, and responded with the wisdom of a franchise star.
They'll keep coming for Anthony this season, keep trying to get inside his head and get him to implode. History has shown him to be volatile, to be susceptible, but failures also have shown Anthony that there's no tough-guy validation left for him in basketball, no one worth chasing out to a locker room, a bus and ultimately out of his mind.
Carmelo Anthony reached down, grabbed Kevin Garnett's hand and pulled him to his feet. No grudges, 'Melo said. No hard feelings. Anthony had come to Boston to end this saga, end that long losing streak. Garnett had talked and talked and talked, but this is the way a superstar delivers the final word.
After all the missteps in his career, all the obliterated opportunities, grace and growth ruled the night for Carmelo Anthony. Yes, this was the resolve of a franchise player, reaching out with a helping hand for foe and his friends. This is how a star elevates everyone.
More NBA coverage from Yahoo! Sports:
Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
• Peyton Manning rallies players to keep Pro Bowl alive
• NCAA's botched handling of Miami case strengthens case for athlete endorsements
• Braves acquire outfielder Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks