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NEW YORK -- He wore a New York Yankees cap in the locker room afterward, just like a certain guy from the Cavaliers who used to come into Madison Square Garden twice a year to beat the Knicks and flirt about the future before he decided to take his talents to Miami.
But the resemblances between this new Knicks-killer, Samardo Samuels, and LeBron James do not begin and end with their choices of headgear -- or the fact that they have played for a team that has shown an uncanny knack for beating the Bockers.
Samuels was the national high school player of the year, too.
And when it came time for somebody on the Cavaliers to make the play of the night, it was this 22-year-old undrafted rookie from Louisville -- who played prep ball at St. Benedict's in New Jersey and moved to Queens (becoming a Yankees fan instead of a Mets fan) from the island of Jamaica at age 14 -- who got the job done on the defensive end.
|Samardo Samuels drew a charge on Carmelo Anthony in the final two seconds. And that, Knicks fans, was the ballgame.|
Samuels stepped into the lane and drew a charge against Carmelo Anthony with 1.8 seconds left -- the second charge Samuels drew against the Knicks' new superstar in the final two minutes -- and New York trailing by two in what ended as a humiliating 119-115 loss to Cleveland on Friday night.
How humiliating was it?
Well, start with the fact that the Knicks blew a 12-point lead in the final quarter. Then consider that the Cavs won for only the 12th time all season but for the third time against the Knicks. Then account for the amount of offense Anthony (29 points) and Amare Stoudemire (41) provided, only for it to be wasted by virtue of the simple fact that the Knicks could not get a defensive stop when they needed one down the stretch.
It appeared the Knicks were cooked when notorious Knicks tormentor Baron Davis sank a 3-pointer with 10.6 seconds left to give the Cavs a 116-112 lead. But Stoudemire drilled a 3-pointer on the ensuing inbounds pass to make it a one-point game, and Ramon Sessions made just one of two free throws with 7 seconds left to give the Knicks a chance to go for the tie or the win.
They got the ball into Anthony's hands near the right elbow, and Anthony scooted around his defender, Anthony Parker, and headed straight for the hoop.
In stepped Samuels, planting his feet just above the no-charge arc, and straight into him plowed Anthony.
"I was watching the play the whole time. I was guarding Jared Jeffries, so that allowed me a little [space] to roam around and move over and help out," Samuels said. "I saw [Anthony] fumble the ball a little bit, so I know that kind of messed him up and he had to do something real quick. So his whole mindset was to get to the rim, and I was like, this is a perfect opportunity to pull over and take the charge."
Samuels established his position, took a knee to the chest and was the beneficiary of that rarest of instances -- a call going against an NBA superstar on his new home court, with a rookie, of all people, drawing the benefit of the whistle.
"We just got tangled up," Anthony said. "I don't even know his name. Samar, Sam, I don't even know his name, the guy who took the charge."
He knows Samuels' name now, and Anthony likely will remember it in the future, too. Because not only did Samuels (who is expected to start at power forward in place of the injured Antawn Jamison for the remainder of the season) draw those two late charges on Anthony, he also drew one against Stoudemire in the third quarter after getting so physical with Anthony late in the first half battling for position that Anthony shoved Samuels, earning a technical foul.
"Any time a guy comes in who plays as hard as Samardo does and has a little chip on his shoulder, it irritates a lot of guys. I thought at times he was irritating Amare as well," Cavs coach Byron Scott said. "They got a little chippy at times, but that's how he has to play in this league. He has to be a very aggressive, physical basketball player, and he's been doing that for a week or so."
So the Knicks now head to Atlanta to play another team they have gotten chippy with, carrying a 3-3 record since the big trade for Anthony that includes two monster blemishes -- this game, and the one from a week earlier when they traveled to Cleveland and lost there, too.
The Cavs now have defeated the Knicks 11 consecutive times, New York's lead over seventh-place Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference standings now is down to a half-game and the dozen or so games the Knicks said it would take them to get comfortable with each other now are halfway complete.
Beginning Sunday, the Knicks will play four games in five nights, three of them on the road, then play three sets of back-to-backs over the remainder of the month before Samar, Sam or whatever his name is comes back to the Garden with the Cavs on April 3, looking to complete a sweep of the season series.
By then, the Knicks should have a better idea of what kind of a team they are becoming heading into the playoff stretch -- not to mention the defensive tendencies of a certain power forward who laughed afterward at the amount of trash Stoudemire and Anthony were talking to him throughout the game. (And Samuels did not use the word "trash.")
For now, as Friday made clear, the Knicks are still a team working through the growing pains of learning each other with the season more than two-thirds complete. If they are lucky, things will never get worse than they did on this night.
And maybe next time the Cavs come to town, the Knicks will know how to finish out a grudge game -- which is what Anthony said a day earlier this game would be.