Tuesday, March 29, 2011

'Melo, Knicks back up "must-win" claim on both ends

(photo courtesy of SI.com)

Carmelo Anthony has been as advertised since the trade to New York, at least based on my expectations. He's provided high-volume scoring (25.7 PPG), selfish offensive play (389 shots compared to 61 assists) and lazy defense.

But last night against Orlando, Anthony provided just one of those three things. The one good one: High-volume scoring.

Just two nights after scoring 36 points in a loss to the Bobcats, his highest total as a Knick, Anthony bested that mark by scoring 39 points on 12-for-26 shooting. While the scoring is nice, that was to be expected.

What wasn't expected was defensive intensity. It's rare to see anybody in the NBA play tight defense 30 feet from the hoop, let alone Anthony. But there he was, in Hedo Turkoglu's jock ten feet beyond the three-point line in the fourth quarter, pressuring the ball and making Turkoglu work to get to his spots.

I'm not advocating playing defense on guys when they're 30 feet from the hoop; it's never a good idea. But I'm sure all Knicks fan would rather see that Anthony and the one who locked down LeBron James last month than the lazy Anthony who sometimes seems like he just doesn't care about defense.

To top it all off, the ball was in Anthony's hands while the Knicks nursed a one-point lead with 15 seconds to play. Everyone in the building expected him to shoot including the Magic, who double-teamed. In a shocking development Anthony passed to an open Toney Douglas, whose floater was on its way in the hoop before Dwight Howard swatted it on the way down for a goaltend. Don't believe me? Here's proof (thanks to ESPN box scores):

0:32Gilbert Arenas makes 23-foot three point jumper (Hedo Turkoglu assists)97-98
97-100Toney Douglas makes 6-foot jumper (Carmelo Anthony assists)

Yes, Jared Jeffries refused to put a hand up or even get in the way of Jason Richardson's game-tying three-pointer on the next possession. That's pathetic, especially for someone who's only use as a human being is defense. And yes, Anthony shot through a double-team on the final possession and missed the follow to force overtime. But I'm accentuating the positives here for once, so stick with me.

After Orlando took a 104-103 lead with 3:29 left, the Knicks clamped down again defensively and finished the game on a 10-2 run. It was nice to see a team that has seriously struggled closing out games finally finish one off, especially after blowing a two-possession lead in the final minute of regulation.

Anthony had just six points at halftime, but went off for 30 in the second half and three in overtime. The Knicks were obviously motivated by Anthony's must-win proclamation and came to play on both ends. If that continues, this team has a legitimate chance to be very good and nobody (including me) will complain about the trade any more.

Of course, this is just one game. I need to see this kind of effort from Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and the rest of the Knicks on a consistent basis. Speaking of Stoudemire, he scored 20 points on just 10 shots, compared to Anthony's 26 shots and Toney Douglas' 17.

I'm sure Stoudemire was glad to take a back seat while Anthony dominated the second half, but I doubt he'll be happy with 10 shots every night. And neither should the Knicks, who need Stoudemire's offense if they hope to go anywhere this season (or in the next 10 years).

Yes, the Knicks won and yes, they played defense. But this is still far from a well-oiled machine on either end of the court and until this type of performance becomes the norm, I will continue to expect inconsistency and frustration from this team.

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