Carmelo Anthony might want to start describing more games as “must-wins.” The New York Knicks star forward posted a super-star-like stat line of 39 points, 10 reb, and 5 assists to lead the Knicks to a razor-thin 120-116 victory over the New Jersey Nets. Especially impressive was his incredible 20 points in the 3rd quarter which left the Knicks only a point behind entering the fourth quarter after being down ten at the halftime break. After a back and forth fourth quarter, the Knicks finally took the lead for good with 1:07 left in the game on a two-point basket by-who else- Carmelo Anthony.
When confronted with the Knicks recent struggles, any Knicks apologist inevitably turns to a common theme: the trade was not finalized for this year, but for those to come. While the team may not be measurably better in the short run, putting a second star alongside Amar’e Stoudemire was vital for the Knicks hopes of obtaining a third star either by trade or free agency next season.
For the sanity of Knicks fans everywhere, this prognostication better prove correct, as the post-trade Knicks are often causing fans to tear their hair out in frustration. The first half was an exact repetition of the defensive malaise which caused the recent six-game skid. Despite solid performances offensively from both Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks were out-hustled, out-rebounded, and out-worked by a Nets team far hungrier in the first-half, as New Jersey took a ten-point lead into halftime.
In particular, the play of Nets post players Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries overwhelmed the Knicks in the first half, as the deficit ballooned to sixteen points at one point in the second half. Humphries, who grabbed 11 rebounds in the first half, consistently beat Stoudemire to the ball, as the technique of boxing-out appeared to elude Amar’e. Lopez, who netted 22 points in the first half, time and again knocked down mid-range jumpers and close jump-hooks. (The reluctance of Knicks fans to include 7’1″ center Timofey Mozgov in the Anthony trade, widely mocked by national pundits, was perhaps shown to be more prescient than some realized, as 7’0″ Brook Lopez had no difficulty shooting over the 6’9″ Shelden Williams, Mozgov’s replacement on this night.) Finally, both players executed the pick-and-roll excellently with star point guard Deron Williams, an indictment of the Knicks first-half defense as much as it was a sign of William’s prowess as a passer.
Luckily for the Knicks, the “Big 3” of Chauncey Billups, Stoudemire, and Anthony combined for 95 points in the game, leading the team back from the precipice of what would have been one of the worst losses in the Melo era. The hero of the game was undoubtedly Anthony, as he repeatedly showed a rugged determination to drive to the hoop, and was persistent on defense throughout the game.
However, as exciting as the eventual victory was, a four-point win over the Nets does not inspire confidence in the postseason hopes for this team. The lack of team depth was quite apparent in the first half, as the Knicks reserves could not keep pace with the Nets as the stars took to the bench in the second quarter. While several reserves made key plays late (Toney Douglas snagged a crucial offensive rebound in the last minute of the game, then buried two foul shots to stretch the lead to four) the poor first half performance- at one point, the Knicks trailed by 16- displayed a reality of the post-trade Knicks which John Hollinger touched on recently. The Knicks blew up their squad to obtain Anthony, at much too high a cost. While Anthony is certainly better individually than any of the players the Knicks sent out, the combined sum of the players traded is enough to leave Knicks stuck as an average team for the foreseeable future. And so fans are left hoping that, somehow, a third star comes to join Anthony and Stoudemire. That reality is a sobering thought on a night when the Knicks barely clawed past their metropolitan nemesis.