You know how announcers talk about Shane Battier? How they say he “does things that don’t show up in the boxscore” and how his value can’t really be defined by common statistics? Well, no one ever really says those things about Carmelo Anthony. Ever. And that’s fair. Anthony’s entire career has been defined by the column in the boxscore furthest to the right. That’s where his performances live in their entirety, right underneath that points column, where he hangs bigger numbers than just about everyone. For better or worse, that’s what has defined Carmelo Anthony. The pursuit of points.
By that very definition, tonight could be described as an individual failure for Anthony. Even in victory, Anthony scored just 9 points in a 104-100 thriller in San Antonio that kept the Knicks undefeated.
But obvious team success aside, this wasn’t an individual failure for Anthony at all. This was probably the best worst game of Anthony’s career.
Sure, Raymond Felton (25 points) was a scoring machine. Yes, Jason Kidd (4-for-6 from deep) was on fire from behind the arc. But let’s be clear — none of that happens without Anthony doing the things he did tonight. The Spurs threw the kitchen sink at Anthony. If he was lucky enough to actually get the ball through strong ball denials, every off-ball Spurs defender pulled towards his side of the floor like metal to Magneto. DeJuan Blair beat up on him to start, then came Stephen Jackson, then Kawhi Leonard. And on and on it went like that — fresh body after fresh body to bang on Melo.
It almost worked. The Spurs built an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter after Tiago Splitter (who else, right?) went on a one man scoring run with 13 (!) straight points. But even with that happening on the Spurs’ home floor, where they’re almost impossible to beat, the Knicks stayed calm and never started pressing or forcing the action. Anthony was still thoroughly accounted for on every possession, but he crashed the offensive glass with relentlessness once the Spurs turned their backs. He hustled after loose balls, saving a few from going out of bounds. He stuck his nose in the middle of the paint and mixed it up, never waving the white flag by running out to the perimeter and demanding the ball.
Ultimately, it paid off, and there was one defining possession for this Knicks team down the stretch. Down 95-94 with less than two minutes, Anthony had a lane to the rim on the fastbreak. But instead of keeping his blinders on and bowling his way to the rim, or pulling up for a jumper, Anthony spotted Felton in a better position on the other side of the floor. Felton, who was really feeling it, turned and kicked it out to an even more wide-open J.R. Smith, who nailed the 3 to give the Knicks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. It was a hockey assist for Anthony — another thing that doesn’t go in the boxscore.
We know Anthony can fill it up. But what we didn’t know is how he would react in the middle of a poor scoring night with these particular teammates. He trusted them, and there was no panic or pouting along the way. There was only passing — of the ball, and of the test.