NEW YORK — The Knicks seem intent on finding new ways to lose basketball games, the most recent one coming in crushing fashion Monday night at the buzzer against the Mavericks.
But the constant losing and the team’s abysmal record truly have nothing to do with Carmelo Anthony.
Dallas gave back all of an eight-point lead it possessed with 1:37 remaining, and Anthony’s three to tie it capped an effort of more than 40 points for the third time in his last four games. He did everything possible yet again for this Knicks team — including playing excellent defense against Dirk Nowitzki on the game’s final possession — only to see his opponent’s shot bank and bounce home as time expired.
Anthony finished with 44 points on 29 shots, one make away from shooting better than 50 percent from the field for a fourth straight game, and added nine rebounds and four assists in almost 42 minutes of action. But nothing he does seems to be enough to save this Knicks team from loss after difficult loss.
“Melo has been our most consistent player all year,” Knicks head coach Mike Woodson said afterward. “There’s no doubt about that. The way he’s played, it’s a damn shame that we’re in the position we’re in because our team doesn’t deserve it, and he definitely does not deserve the position that we’re in based on how he has played.”
He absolutely doesn’t.
For the third straight game, Anthony was the type of unstoppable force offensively that makes you understand why teams will be lining up with offers at or near a max contract if he chooses to leave New York in free agency. He is one of the game’s elite pure scorers, capable of bombing shots from three-point distance at a high enough percentage, even while defended, to keep his team within reach.
Anthony is a combined 17-of-30 from beyond the arc over his last three games, all increasingly painful losses. It took double overtime before New York fell in Orlando, in a game where Anthony scored 44 points and played 50 minutes. And then in Atlanta the very next night, Anthony dropped in 35 points on 52 percent shooting, only to see his team blow a 17-point lead, and fall apart in the second half by surrendering 68 points over the game’s final 24 minutes.
Monday night at Madison Square Garden, the building was electric as the Knicks staged their furious late-game comeback, and the feeling was that this time, they may just have enough to push themselves over the winning edge. But Anthony couldn’t get a shot off with Vince Carter defending and the game tied, losing his handle a bit before being forced to swing it to J.R. Smith for a desperation heave as the shot clock expired.
“I think I gave up a decent shot,” Anthony said of his final possession. “The first time I had it, Vince was on me, and I figured we’re at home, I can try to get to the rack and get a foul or a closer shot. I didn’t want to pull up for the three, but that’s what I should have done. I should have just pulled up for the three and just took that chance.”
When Nowitzki’s shot dropped home on the ensuing possession to send the Knicks to another loss, Anthony stood on the court for several seconds afterward, thinking about all he had done in this one and has been doing for his team all season long, only to see anything but the desired result.
“It’s just like a needle in a balloon right there,” Anthony said of the feeling he had when he saw the ball go through the basket. “It sucks all of the air out of you.”
“That shot right there, I felt like I couldn’t do nothing more, nothing better,” he said. “He hit a tough shot, and we had a chance to get a better shot than we did when we had the ball. It was just a lot of that going on, and an accumulation of us losing the game. I was just trying to take all of that in.”
It was a lot to deal with in that moment, but Anthony hasn’t been at all to blame for his team’s lack of success. And yet, his stellar string of high-scoring performances comes as little consolation.
“It’s pointless,” he said. “Pointless. It is tough. You score 40, 44, 44, 44 — all losses. You kind of ask yourself, is it worth it? But I’m not going to stop doing what I’m doing. You can believe that.”
As Anthony walked out of the Knicks locker room, he was asked for additional clarification — even though any competitor playing at the game’s highest level would have been able to predict his response.
“You’re losing,” Anthony said. “Scoring all of that and taking Ls, I’ll take the W with 10 points.”