Moke Hamilton, NBA Analyst
With Patrick Ewing sitting courtside, Michael Jordan watching and Kobe Bryant en route to New York City, on Friday night, Carmelo Anthony put the New York Knicks on his back and rose up above Madison Square Garden.
He soared as he scored, higher and higher, until he stood alone in history.
An arctic January night in New York City became a cauldron of hope and euphoria. And for 48 minutes, as Anthony set the Knicks franchise and Madison Square Garden scoring record with 62 exhilarating points, Knicks fans were allowed to temporarily escape the misery of the abyss.
With a sparsely filled Garden on hand to witness the Knicks hopefully turn the Charlotte Bobcats into house cats, Anthony, by his own admission, had seen enough.
“I’m just tired of losing,” he said after scoring 37 points in the game’s first half. And after following it up with 25 points in the second, Anthony admitted that it felt good.
“What happened tonight feels surreal for me,” Anthony said afterward. And while he was basking in his history-making moment, Anthony said something that resonated.
“The fans, I haven’t heard them like that since last year.”
And in that moment, despite his personal accomplishment, Anthony reminded all of his Knicks consistent failures this season. On a night when he broke records and stood alone as an individual, his thoughts were on his team’s lost season.
Anthony himself knew that his record breaking performance does not change the fact that the Knicks, after defeating the Bobcats, are just 8-15 at Madison Square Garden this season and 16-27 overall. They trail the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors by four and 6.5 games, respectively.
They possess the 11th seed in the Eastern Conference and are on the outside of the NBA’s playoff picture, looking in and looking up at the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers and, yes, these Bobcats.
But, at least for one night, we were reminded of one other thing that the Knicks possess—now, there was no doubt. The Knicks possess Anthony—certainly the greatest single-game scorer in their franchise’s long history and arguably one of the greatest the league has ever seen.
And as he soared, as he wiggled free from defenders and popped off of screens, Anthony showed us what he can be at his best. It is that Anthony that Knicks fans believed they traded their farm for.
It is that Anthony—the Anthony we saw on Friday night—that had Knicks fans dreaming of raining on South Beach and reigning on South Beach.
The lead-headed observers will point to Anthony’s zero assists and foolishly denounce his 35 shot-attempts. But they will not point out that the Bobcats refused to double-team Anthony until the game’s third quarter, when he had already totaled 49 points. They will similarly fail to point out the fact that Anthony converted on 18 of his first 24 shots. And they certainly do not realize that any NBA coach would encourage his star player to make the opposition pay every single time if he was hot and if he was facing single coverage.
When the Bobcats began doubling Anthony in the game’s third quarter, he moved the ball effectively. When he found open men—J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway—they clanked open looks.
Those same observers are the ones who denounce Anthony for not being Magic Johnson, LeBron James or Chris Paul. And they fail to realize an obvious truth about Anthony: he is not them.
He, at least historically, has not been a demanding leader who galvanizes his troops with gut-busting effort. He has never been one to make quick decisions with the basketball and turn in double-digit assist efforts regularly.
What he is and always has been is a gifted scorer who needs the correct pieces around him to excel. The untold story of Anthony’s season, thus far, has been that he has played as passionately and with as much effort as we have seen in quite some time. It is his teammates who, either due to attrition, a lack of experience, a lack of confidence, or all three, have ultimately failed him.
And as he thought about this almost lost season, Anthony was grateful to have gotten the scoring record, but was even happier for a win.
And no, a single game does not change anything in the grand scheme, but seeing Anthony make history with his team and for his team, and witnessing the offensive dominance that made him a household name initially, that was refreshing.
For at least one night, Anthony became larger than life, larger than the Garden, and the largest in his team’s history. And he did it his way.
This Anthony is the one that brought dreams of ending a 40-year championship drought in one of the country’s basketball hotbeds.
While he certainly will not score 62 points every night, on any given night, he can score 40. How efficiently he does it can shift the scales in favor of the Knicks, against anyone, and in today’s NBA, that, in and of itself, has immense value.
Mike Woodson knows it, Anthony knows it and opposing coaches know it.
So although the Knicks are still on the brink of expiration, and although the Knicks still have to seriously contemplate trading Anthony before the February 20 trade deadline, he remains one of the league’s most dangerous scorers and remains a player around whom a contender can be built. He proved that on Friday.
Witnessing a reminder of that fact, even against the lowly Bobcats, was, again, refreshing.
Somewhere between Allen Iverson leading his Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals in 2001 and Steve Nash winning consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player Awards in 2005 and 2006, the NBA’s collective media began to thumb its nose at players known as volume scorers. Perhaps rightfully so, Anthony has been on the receiving end of an immense amount of criticism for his existence as such.
Even if only for one night, and even if only in one game, Anthony rose majestically up above all the criticism, all the neigh saying and negativity and reminded us all.
For one night and for 48 minutes, he made Knicks fans forget their plight. He did it by doing what he does best. And though it only counts for one win, taking back the Garden’s scoring record from Bryant was poetic justice.
What is ironic about Anhony’s 35 shots and 62 points is that, until the latter stages of the third quarter, with his teammates egging him on after alerting him of his approaching Bryant’s 61-point record, he did not seem to force the action. He played within himself and with poise and grace.
Most importantly, he played efficiently.
With this Anthony—the efficient scorer who does not needlessly force the action—the Knicks can have sustained success. So long as he continues to be himself, with the right supporting cast and improved play from his teammates, this Anthony may rise once again.
Through the rafters at the World’s Most Famous Arena, up the standings in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, and who knows where else.
Enough of the losing, enough of the lethargy. And enough of not being the scoring champion in his own building. Anthony decided, enough was enough.
In the record books, January 24, 2013 will replace December 25, 1984 and February 2, 2009, the respective dates when Bernard King and Bryant scored 60 and 61 points at Madison Square Garden.
In the end, whether or not Anthony is a Knick this time next season, that date may also go down as the night when he reminded the world of his gift. Love him or hate him, witnessing Anthony’s historic performance, using that gift, was something that the Garden’s faithful needed to see. For them, it was a welcomed reminder.
Ahead of King, ahead of Bryant and in front of Ewing, Anthony reminded us all of who he was. And as the Knicks continue to try to pull themselves off of the mat, it was well-timed. Anthony’s flight was well executed.
Moke Hamilton is the NBA Analyst for SNY.tv and, along with Lead Writer Harris Decker, hosts the Knicks Blog Podcast each and every Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton