- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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By the crazy, frantic, ear-splitting end, after the New York Knicks had both blown a 21-point lead and doggedly dug out of a 10-point hole, after they had hit the boards and hit the floor and raved about the defensive job rookie Iman Shumpert did on Chicago Bulls' reigning league MVP Derrick Rose -- as crazy as that sounded on an afternoon Rose scored 29 points -- Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony was still the hottest hand left on the Madison Square Garden floor Sunday.
And he let everyone know it by celebrating his last 3-pointer of the game -- an overtime game-winner he rattled in from 25 feet out to beat the NBA''s winningest team -- by spinning around and screaming, "This is my house!"
"Yeah, I did say that," Anthony admitted with a laugh. "It was just that they were talking some trash out there, in the moment."
If this is a preview of what a first-round playoff showdown between the Knicks and Bulls and Anthony versus Rose, is going to be like, then bring it on.
The Garden never totally felt like Anthony's house before Sunday -- not really, no matter how often it was said just because he's the Knicks best player.
But then, Anthony never had a signature win like this since he came to New York a little more than a year ago. The 43 points he poured in Sunday were his career-high as a Knick. And the two clutch 3-pointers he hit -- one with 11.2 seconds to play to force overtime, and the second from 25 feet out and 8.2 seconds left to give the Knicks a heart-pounding 100-99 win -- were easily the two most important shots he has made since he forced the blockbuster trade that brought him from Denver.
Anthony acted like it, too. He took off on an impromptu victory lap to slap hands with some fans after the Bulls' Rose missed a driving, corkscrewing layup attempt just ahead of the final buzzer with Knicks center Tyson Chandler harassing him. The rest of the Knicks ran off their bench, celebrating, as the Garden crowd stood and roared.
"That's the way the Garden's supposed to be," Anthony said, laughing again.
What made Anthony's performance all the more impressive was Anthony did it against the team with the NBA's best record and deepest defensive front court. And he did it, though Bulls defensive guru Tom Thibodeau -- who could win his second straight coach of the year award -- sent three or four different defenders at Anthony in the course of the game, often two or three at a time.
The Knicks knew they needed to win Sunday to stay one game ahead of Milwaukee in the race for the East's last playoff spot even more than they needed to make a statement to the Bulls or see Anthony win some one-on-one individual duel with Rose.
But the Knicks accomplished all three things and -- in Anthony's estimation -- made a "big" statement heading into Tuesday's rematch in Chicago, or should the Knicks and Bulls meet in the first round of the playoffs. Which they might.
"This is one of the better teams in the whole league, but we feel that we can go out there and compete," Anthony insisted, ignoring that the Knicks are still without starters Amare Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin (perhaps for the season), while the Bulls are 14 wins better (43-29) and finally getting healthy.
Rose missed the Bulls' previous 12 games with a groin injury. And the Knicks didn't make it easy on him. They knocked him around so often Bulls enforcer Carlos Boozer got a technical in the first quarter for purposely slamming a shoulder into Knicks center Tyson Chandler on his way to pick Rose up after one knockdown. In the second half, Rose ran off to the side of the court during another Bulls' possession, using his jersey to dab his face and check for blood after he got smacked in the mouth.
But Knicks interim coach Mike Woodson wanted the game this way. The Knicks have only 10 games left in their playoff push, and he said he told them in his pregame talk that the officials were probably going to let both teams play so, "I don't want to see any crying." And he got his wish.
"It was two teams that didn't want to lose, that was just banging and battling," Woodson said. "Unbelievable. They [the Knicks] just wouldn't give in."
The rough treatment didn't stop Rose and the Bulls from coming back at the Knicks, same as Anthony and the Knicks never stopped going back at them.
But had the Knicks lost this game after sprinting off to a 27-6 lead, they would've had to file it with the huge double-digit lead they blew against the Pacers a few games earlier, and wonder if they had the depth or wherewithal to close out wins against good teams. And they would've had to answer a lot of questions about their offense, which started strong, and then increasingly lapsed into isolation plays and too many long missed jumpers.
The Knicks had 11 assists in the first quarter; only six through the rest of the regulation and overtime.
But the Bulls missed five free throws in the last 34 seconds of regulation, two of them by Rose to go with his four missed field-goal attempts in the last 1:40 that helped keep the Knicks' alive.
Rose can surely play better than he did once he shakes the rust off.
And the Bulls' proud defense will note that Anthony will be hard-pressed to repeat what he did Sunday.
Still, for one game anyway, Anthony gave the Knicks a break from all the talk if they face either Chicago or Miami in the first-round playoffs, they'll be out in four straight games, same as Boston swept them last season.
Afterward, Anthony didn't try to downplay how important this game or his heroics were. He was asked where he'd rank his two game-deciding 3-pointers among the many big shots he's hit in his career, and he said without hesitation, "One of the top."
Rose was in the house Sunday at the Garden. But Anthony made himself a home.
5hEthan Sherwood Strauss
3hArash Markazi and Ben Alamar
1dAlok Pattani, ESPN Stats & Information
2dDan Le Batard