1. Melo Reaches Unfamiliar Territory In Game 1
NEW YORK -- The record is as stunning as the context.
Heading into Saturday afternoon, Carmelo Anthony was 17-37 in playoff games in his career, the worst of anyone in NBA history who had played in more than 50 postseason games. Consider that for a moment. Of the 451 players ever to step on the court in 50 playoff games -- a career's worth for many -- none had ever been less successful than Anthony.
Yes, yes, basketball is a team sport. Of course any statistic listing a career record is loaded with caveats and circumstances. Tracy McGrady could tell you about that. Anthony's been on some playoff teams in Denver and New York that were outclassed by their competition. Two years ago, the Knicks were whitewashed by the better Boston Celtics 4-0. Last year, they were dusted by the NBA champion Miami Heat 4-1.
In Denver, Anthony couldn't seem to help running into the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers as first-round speed bumps to the Finals, and they were outclassed. Had Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson switch places in the 1960s, Russell probably doesn't win 11 rings playing for the Cincinnati Royals.
But let's be honest, if you're a superstar, you're not 20 games under .500 in the playoffs. Superstars are not truly defined by getting voted to start All-Star Games. Superstars tilt postseason games in their teams' direction. Superstars carry teams in the playoffs, even as the underdog. On this career-defining reality, Anthony is woefully underdeveloped.
Anthony is now on a strong team. He's on a favored team -- one that ironically includes two old Nuggets teammates, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin, playing key roles -- at least between now and the conference finals. Anthony just had the best regular season of his career. He says he's healthy, a midseason knee draining apparently doing wonders for his lift and agility. There are no excuses.
Saturday, Anthony played an excuse-free game and he led his team to an excuse-free win when the Knicks beat the Celtics 85-78 to take Game 1. Anthony had 36 points. He had eight of them in the fourth quarter plus a steal and a key assist to finish off the game. It was a superstar-type performance.
Anthony took 29 shots to get there. Afterward, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said that was an acceptable ratio. Anthony is a volume scorer, he's not going to take 15 official shots and score 33 points like LeBron James and Kevin Durant do. But the Knicks are the No. 2 seed in the East, and Anthony is probably going to finish higher than ever in the Most Valuable Player vote because he's the best volume scorer in the league.
"When we got into a tough stretch, he made the plays we needed him to make," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "That is what the great ones do; they figure it out, and Melo has done that all season." This is indeed his style. In this game, he played average. And his average was good enough to win. That's a definition of a superstar, too. He wasn't as hot as he was a few weeks ago, when he scored 50 points in a game in Miami and didn't make a single shot inside the paint. In the past, his average has been good enough to lose in the playoffs.
The next few weeks will tell us if this truly is a different Anthony, one whose "average" means the Knicks can scratch out wins and whose "great" means they can beat anyone in any arena. Anthony does have that within him, it's just been rare to see in the spring.
Saturday, he made his first four shots to help calm the nerves of his obviously jittering teammates. Then he made four of his last five, including a clutch jumper at the end of the shot clock that pretty much sealed the game with 1:21 remaining.
After the Celtics' Jeff Green scored 20 points in the first half, Anthony got much more physical with him in the second half, as he was Green's primary defender. Anthony pushed Green off his spots and got in his space when he did catch the ball, taking advantage of the referees' decision to let the teams be aggressive defensively.
"I wanted to get off to a good start, make the game easier for everyone else," Anthony said. "[This series is] going to be a battle."
The Knicks haven't been ahead 1-0 in a playoff series since 2001. Anthony hasn't been up 1-0 in three years and he lost that series. These are, believe it or not, unusual times. It is Anthony's main job -- one of the biggest reasons he earns more than $19 million per season -- to make a 1-0 series lead the normal course of business.
That is what superstars do.
So far in these playoffs, Anthony is on schedule. He's now only 19 games under .500 in the playoffs. That's the correct direction.
"It's a wonderful feeling to know we got our first win of the series on our home court," Anthony said. "It was real important."
It certainly was; it's not something Anthony or the Knicks are used to.
2. Around the Association
MVP: For those hoping for an extension of his April brilliance, Melo's helter-skelter outing (36 points on 29 shots) was as sobering as it was indispensable. If the C's can make it this hard consistently, Bockers beware.
X factor: Turnovers. The Celtics committed 20 of them, including 15 by way of steals -- a bevy of those at crucial points down the stretch. Many applauded the Rondo-less offense for its intermittent dynamism, but this is the flip side.
That was ... a heckuva start. Only fitting that this year's playoffs launched with these two ancient rivals doing their parts to help lead a bewildered city -- and country -- back to normalcy. Solidarity expressed, the bad blood rejoined. More please!
MVP: We'll remember the last-second, game-winning layup most, but Andre Miller dominated the entire fourth quarter. The 37-year-old scored 18 of his game-high 28 points in the final stanza, almost single-handedly keeping the stubborn Warriors at bay.
X factor: Golden State led 62-58 with 3:19 left in the third quarter, but Denver closed on a 14-4 run to end the period that proved too much to overcome. Corey Brewer hit two 3-pointers during the Nuggets' binge, and from there the scoring floodgates were open.
That was ... emotionally exhausting: Both teams saved the most exciting and potentially disheartening action for last -- Miller's heroics, Steph Curry's nearly game-saving 3-pointer and a right leg injury to David Lee marked a wild, wild finish.
MVP: Chris Paul. His focus might have been on stopping Mike Conley and creating balance early, but the scoring senses tingled at the right time. Paul's 14 points in the second half helped slam the door shut on the Grizzlies.
That was ... puzzling: Rarely does a coach make no substantial adjustments and yet still fail to maintain any rotational continuity. The Grizzlies won't win this series if Lionel Hollins continues to get outcoached.
X factor: Glasswork. The Grizzlies pride themselves on winning the possession battle, but Marc Gasol & Co. got hit in the mouth tonight. The Clippers won the rebounding battle 47-23 and dominated with plenty of second-chance buckets.
MVP: Brook Lopez. Best scoring big in the NBA? Best scoring big in the NBA. With Joakim Noah too dinged-up to stay in the game for long, Lopez was a force inside and proved too difficult for Chicago's depleted bigs to guard. He nailed all of his foul shots, too, and led the first wave of offense that put the game out of sight.
X factor: Gerald Wallace. This was literally Wallace's best game in months, and maybe of the entire year. He didn't miss a shot until the third quarter, scoring six straight points at one stretch while providing his characteristically frenetic defense for a balanced effort that's been missing during his season-long shooting slump.
That was ... reassuring: There isn't a better way to kick off franchise history than by pacing an easy blowout victory over a team that plenty of pundits picked to win. It's just one game, yes, but all of the fan base's worries were absolved as almost every player did well, save for a few Jerry Stackhouse air balls.
3. Saturday's Best
Andre Miller, Nuggets:
The 37-year-old, in his 13th NBA season, poured in 28 points off the bench for Denver. None were more important that the two he dropped with a driving layup with 1.3 seconds remaining, saving the Nuggets from a Game 1 upset at home against the Warriors.
4. Saturday's Worst
Fourth-quarter points: eight. Fourth-quarter turnovers: eight. That's not a recipe for success on the road -- or anywhere for that matter -- against a Knicks team firing on all cylinders.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote of the Night
"Boston will rise and run again."
--Paul Pierce, who, along with Carmelo Anthony, spoke in a pregame ceremony recognizing the tragic Boston Marathon bombings.
8. Early Exit For Lee
9. Stat Check
Seven Clippers players scored in double-digits, tying a franchise record, and the Clippers ripped the Grizzlies' vaunted defense for 112 points, including 37 in the fourth quarter, to send Memphis to defeat in Game 1. The only other time seven Clippers have scored 10 points or more in a playoff game came on April 29, 2006, when Corey Maggette led the team with 19 points in a 100-86 win over Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets.
Memphis had only one game this season in which it allowed as many as 112 points (a 121-96 loss at Houston on Dec. 22) and it had only one game in which it surrendered as many as 37 points in a fourth quarter (a 39-point fourth quarter by the Trail Blazers at Portland on March 12).
10. Dunk Of The Night