- Stephen A. Smith, ESPNNewYork.com columnist
- 0 Shares
There was the 3-pointer with 11.2 seconds left in regulation that would extend the New York Knicks beyond regulation. There was another 3 with 8.2 seconds left in overtime that sent Madison Square Garden into a frenzy, especially after it saw Carmelo Anthony yelling, "This is my house!"
Sunday afternoon, it was perfectly OK for Melo to display such bravado following the Knicks' 100-99 victory over the Chicago Bulls. Particularly since his 43 points (on 16-for-31 shooting) were what saved the day. But the fact that the Knicks needed such a Herculean effort from their resident superstar to save their day, perhaps, may speak more loudly than the victory itself. Or as Knicks coach Mike Woodson put it when asked whether the Knicks have turned the corner on their way to the playoffs:
"We'll know whether that's true or not over these last 10 games."
Go ahead and celebrate the Knicks' victory, Melo's performance and the fact they actually beat a legitimate championship contender while holding reigning league MVP Derrick Rose relatively in check. But there's still work to be done, and if we're being honest, the jury is still out on whether the Knicks can get the job done.
Hidden beneath the euphoria of Sunday's victory is the unpleasantness of a squandered 21-point lead, sporadic defense, far too many jacked-up 3-point shots, a poor shooting percentage, excessive dependency on Anthony, putrid rebounding -- and the reality that Rose's 29 points came via an unimpressive 8-for-26 shooting performance.
If the Bulls hadn't missed five free throws in the final 34 seconds of regulation -- two by Rose, who missed four in the game's last 1:40 to help keep the Knicks breathing -- there would be nothing to celebrate.
"We feel we can go out there and compete," an excited Anthony proclaimed after the game. "We know we can compete."
Yeah! But since when has that become the criteria?
The answer would be never. Primarily because when you're talking about a $223 million frontline, competing is the least the Knicks could do. In fact, they'd possess a lot of nerve if they failed to do so.
"They can compete," Bulls center Joakim Noah said after the game. "We can't sit here and take that away from them. They're a tougher team than they were before. There's no doubt about that. They play hard every possession. I mean every possession. They're tough. They keep coming. They're showing a lot of heart. And they've got someone to give the ball to when it counts in Melo. I've got to give him credit.
"But I'm not about to sit here and give [Anthony] too much credit. We might have to meet them down the road. So I'm not about to sit here and soup his head up. He's not getting anything else from me."
What Melo gives the Knicks is far more important. And what he gave them Sunday was great news.
Melo's jumper was falling. So was his midrange game. So was his ability to get to the hole, driving to the basket and drawing fouls. And he did all of this without compromising his defensive effort, which clearly contaminated the rest of the Knicks in the best way imaginable.
"It was two teams that didn't want to lose, that were just banging and battling," Woodson said after the game. "Unbelievable. [The Knicks] just wouldn't give in."
Maybe that explains why Woodson was seen bear hugging Tyson Chandler near the locker room, as if the Knicks has just won a championship. Chances are, they recognize what the rest of us should: that they have no shot of winning anything without Chandler, who's clearly this season's NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Consider that the Knicks, with Melo's better-than-50 percent shooting performance, still shot 38 percent from the field collectively, just 23 percent from 3-point range, and managed to record a gran -total of six assists in the last three quarters and overtime. So what is there to brag about?
"Actually, they can brag a little bit," said Rose, shockingly. "[The Knicks] know where to get the ball to now. Guys aren't taking many silly shots. Melo's at least touching the ball when they come down the court now. They're running the offense through him and he's making plays. He's hitting tough shots, great shots, making the game easy, and he's getting to the line.
"I've got to take my hat off to Coach Woodson. He's doing a great job of making sure everyone's playing hard and playing team basketball. You've got to give them credit. They're playing hard throughout the whole game. They're a great defensive team now. Especially when they get you playing out of control. But it still comes down to Melo."
Yes! It does.
Knicks assistant Darrell Walker said, "In the waning moments I looked at Melo and told him, 'The Carmelo Anthony I've known and loved all these years smiles at moments like this,'" but the Knicks will need more for Melo to truly enjoy himself.
Not just from Melo. Not just from Chandler. Not even just from Iman Shumpert, who continues to impress.
"It'll take all of us," Woodson said. "We've got 10 games left, six of them versus playoff teams. It's on the line. We'll see what happens."
Amen! And then some.
The jury is still out on whether the Knicks can get the job done.