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Monday, April 18, 2011
Updated: April 19, 10:49 AM ET
Anthony's Game 1? Not good enough

By Ian O'Connor
ESPNNewYork.com

BOSTON -- Carmelo Anthony could have pulled a Chris Webber, circa 1993, and called a timeout he did not have. He looked at Mike D'Antoni, waiting for him to stop the clock and the chaos consuming the Game 1 court, and all the coach of the New York Knicks did was shout this simple command:

"Go. Go. Go."

Nobody has to tell Anthony to go more than once, but D'Antoni was just another witness swept up in the moment. The Boston Celtics had seized the lead on Ray Allen's 3-pointer, the home crowd was turning the place upside down, and at the end of a wild night, his first playoff night as a Knick, Anthony was thinking it would be a fine time to do something the rules wouldn't allow the visitors to do.

"Maybe that's my boneheaded mistake," Anthony confessed Monday.

He had more than his fair share of forced and unforced errors across the first game of the rest of his postseason life, and no, it wasn't the end of the world.

The Knicks were expected to lose this game and this series anyway, even before Chauncey Billups went down again with a worn and wounded knee. Anthony wasn't acquired in that February trade with Denver for the short-term benefits of a magical run to June. He was hired for the long-term prospect of winning the Knicks' first championship since 1973.

In that context, Anthony got off to a dreadful start. "I couldn't buy a bucket [Sunday] night," he said, "especially in the second half."

Anthony missed 10 of 11 shots in that second half, including the 3-pointer that would have inspired all sorts of tributes to his resilience, his nerve and his ability to make a bad performance good with one dramatic flick of his right wrist. As it happened, the best thing that could be said about Anthony's night was that the Nuggets lost, too.

In the closing minutes he put the blistering hot Amare Stoudemire on ice and committed a turnover, a lethal offensive foul and the mortal sin of wayward make-or-break aim. "I know I can make those shots," Anthony said.

Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony and his fellow NBA stars shouldn't settle for a 50-50 split with the owners.

In fact, Melo entered this series with a long history of making them in the regular season. "He's the best finisher of games in the last 10 years, if I'm not mistaken, in the NBA," D'Antoni said.

The coach defended Anthony's decision to shoot for the victory instead of the tie, though it wasn't what you would call a spirited defense. D'Antoni cited the star's endgame credibility and his well-earned freedom to make a play on the fly.

He said, "I'm not going to nitpick," before he went ahead and nitpicked. "Would we both like it back? Yeah," D'Antoni said. "Actually, he'd be the first guy to want it back. ... But I'm not going to sit here and second guess him on what he does better than anybody in the NBA."

But here's the thing: Nobody truly believes Carmelo Anthony is basketball's answer to Mariano Rivera, not when a five-time champion closer named Kobe Bean Bryant is still breathing.

Every professional athlete understands that his or her legacy is determined by performance -- or lack thereof -- in the postseason. Anthony was the third pick in the 2003 draft, the LeBron James draft, and the Nuggets proceeded to lose 20 of 24 playoff games over his first five seasons.

Anthony was hardly a choker, but he did feel the weight of successive playoff failures at the time Billups, Mr. Big Shot, walked into his life. Suddenly Denver was playing Bryant's Lakers in the Western Conference finals, and Anthony was speaking the language of a liberated man. "It took me five years to get that gorilla off my back," he said.

The Nuggets went back to being first-round losers last year, leaving Anthony with a 2-7 series record, a playoff shooting percentage (42) four points lower than his regular season shooting percentage, and a dearth of signature sudden-death moments that separate the Bryants and Jordans from the pack.

Anthony doesn't belong among basketball's all-time greats, but even second-tier stars can build enduring places in the game's history. The retired Knick who spent time Monday rebounding Anthony's shots, Allan Houston, could tell Melo a thing or three about that. Houston made the breathless Game 5 runner in 1999 to eliminate Miami in the first round, ultimately helping to send the eighth-seeded Knicks to the NBA Finals.

When Knicks fans see Houston these days, they think of that shot. They don't think of the $100 million the franchise would later waste on him.

Anthony is a better player than Houston, Latrell Sprewell, John Starks or any of the supporting stars in Patrick Ewing's time -- the Big Fella said so himself. But if Anthony wants to make his time as a Knick work, really work, then he has to drain the shot that Allen made for the Celtics. The shot that cost the Knicks Game 1.

Done with Monday's practice, Anthony was asked if it's harder to hit that shot in the playoffs than it is to hit it in the regular season. "No," he said, "it's the same feeling. I feel confident enough to know that come down crunch time, I can make a play or make a shot. That play was no different than the one I made in Philadelphia a week and a half ago."

Except that Anthony made the shot in Philly, and didn't make the shot in Boston.

Of course, he wasn't the only Knick to blame. D'Antoni should've had a timeout reserved for that last possession, just as he should've kept feeding the ball to Stoudemire.

But even if the Knicks had a timeout to call, D'Antoni said he would've ordered Stoudemire and everyone else in his huddle to "give the ball to Melo and get out of the way."

Nothing is scheduled to change for Game 2, other than the availability of Billups, the very teammate who helped make Melo the playoff winner he finally became in 2009.

So this is Anthony's team, his burden, his title to win before the end of his prime. If the shooting star wants to go down as a true-blue Knicks hero, he needs to get this straight:

They don't book parades for guys who beat Philly a week and a half before Game 1.