Carmelo Anthony

The Extra Pass: Carmelo Anthony calls his string of stellar performances ‘pointless’ after latest crushing loss

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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.”

Thunder get off to fast start, survive wild ending to win 98-97, even series with Spurs

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, center, scramble with San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, right, for a loose ball as time expires in the second half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Monday, May 2, 2016, in San Antonio. Oklahoma City won 98-97. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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When the playoffs are all over, and all the confetti has fallen at the parade celebrating the 2016 NBA champion, we are still going to be talking about this game. The Spurs and Warriors gave us everything — great shooting, leads and comebacks, and a wild, controversial ending.

What ultimately matters is the Thunder bounced back from a rough first game, were aggressive from the start and raced out to that early lead using their transition offense. They hung on through multiple Spurs comebacks and ultimately got a 98-97 win behind 29 points from Russell Westbrook and 28 from Kevin Durant (who played well at the four spot much of the night). The series is now tied 1-1 heading back to Oklahoma City.

All the controversy at the end doesn’t change that fact, or that the Thunder did some things much better in Game 2.

The Thunder have had moments like this throughout the season, where they defended better, got transition points, and Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter (or someone else) would step up and make plays — but they didn’t sustain that high level of play for very long. They still won 55 games because Durant and Westbrook are talented, but we will see if they can sustain a “beat the Spurs” level of play for most of the next couple weeks.

San Antonio helped out by having their offense not as sharp, and just missing shots — the Spurs started 2-of-15 from the field and finished the game shooting just 26.1 percent from three. The missed shots allowed the Thunder to get out in transition more and get the easy buckets that fuel their offense.

But that’s not what anybody is talking about, this is:

Those final 13 seconds, when the Spurs were down 1 and the Thunder were trying to inbound the ball, is the topic of the day. The referees swallowed their whistles to the point that a rugby scrum broke out.

The most discussed part of the play was the inbound — Dion Waiters reaches across the boundary line to shove Manu Ginobili back, which is a clear foul and a change of possessions. Ginobili had stepped on the end line, which could have been ruled a technical but was not as egregious as Waiters’ blatant foul. There were a host of other fouls in those final seconds: Kawhi Leonard grabbing Westbrook’s jersey, a Spurs fan grabbing Steven Adams when he fell out of bounds and not letting him back in the play, and Ibaka hacking LaMarcus Aldridge in the final seconds.

But that’s not what decided the game. The Spurs made a lot of mistakes and missed a lot of clean looks before that, things they needed at the end. Aldridge had 41 points, and Leonard added 12. However, Tim Duncan was 1-of-8, and Tony Parker was 3-of-9 — those guys are not the top offensive options anymore, but the Spurs need them to be efficient. The hustling Thunder defense had something to do with this, but that doesn’t change that the Spurs need more from these two key players.

The Thunder offense worked not because they shared the ball — as per usual, it happens only in spurts — but because Westbrook and Durant hit their shots, and because they got transition buckets.

If they can do that for a couple more games at home, they will be in command of this series. But it’s not going to be simple or easy.

Referees miss Dion Waiters push off, multiple other calls in final seconds of Thunder’s win over San Antonio

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Manu Ginobili said it perfectly after the game: This one play, this one sequence is not why the Spurs lost Game 2 of their series against the Thunder.

However, I can’t remember a time the referees swallowed their whistles on so many calls in the final seconds of a game.

Oklahoma City was up one with 13.5 seconds left (after Serge Ibaka made a silly foul on LaMarcus Aldridge shooting a three), the Thunder just needed to inbound the ball, get fouled and hit their free throws. But it wasn’t that easy.

First and most notably, Dion Waiters was trying to inbound the ball and pushed off on Manu Ginobili guarding the inbound play. That’s a foul, or a technical depending upon which rule you want to apply. But the Spurs should have had the ball out of bounds, the referees just missed that one and both Chris Webber on the call and the TNT Inside the NBA crew harped on that one. They were right.

The officials admitted as much, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Ken Mauer, lead referee from tonight’s game: “On the floor we did not see a foul on the play. However, upon review we realize and we agree we should have had an offensive foul on the play. It’s a play we’ve never seen before, ever. We should have had an offensive foul on the play.”

The question Thunder fans are asking: Why wasn’t Ginobili called for stepping on the out of bounds line? In the final two minutes that’s a technical (the rule book says it’s a foul if he “crosses or breaks the plane of the boundary line,” Ginobili has a toe on the line). Also Leonard had Russell Westbrook‘s jersey through that entire inbounds play.

Waiters did throw a leaping inbound pass as Ginobili stumbled backwards, and he threw it to Durant — who was held as he went for the ball by Danny Green. That should have been a foul call (although Waiters’ inbound foul would have nullified it if that call had been made).

The Spurs get the ball in a scramble for the rock and end up kicking out to Patty Mills for a corner three (not sure that was the best shot), but he missed. In the rebound scramble there could have been a few calls, but the most obvious was Ibaka hacking Aldridge trying to get a putback. It was another clear foul.

All that obscured some great plays — Ginobili with the no-look, behind the head pass to Mills in the corner, or Steven Adams with an amazing closeout to get a piece of Mills’ shot, to name a couple.

I get it, the referees don’t want to decide the game with their whistle, but when it turns into a rugby scrum there should be calls, and the referees shouldn’t be afraid to make them.

Watch LeBron James make plays when it matters in fourth quarter

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On paper LeBron James didn’t have a great fourth quarter — 2-of-7 shooting, both his buckets right at the rim, and he’d been passive for long stretches of the game.

But when the Cavaliers made a 17-2 run late in the game that earned them the Game 1 win over Atlanta, LeBron was at the heart of it all. He had assists, a key steal, and a powerful and-1 dunk. You can check out LeBron’s impressive play in the last five minutes above.

Revived in crunch time, LeBron James pushes Cavaliers past Hawks in Game 1

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LeBron James  hadn’t scored in more than 10 minutes, and it was getting late in the fourth quarter. The Hawks had gone on 11-0 and 10-0 runs since his last points. And Paul Millsap forced LeBron to lose control of the ball as he went up for a left-handed layup.

A moment of truth for the Cavaliers?

LeBron pushed the ball through the hoop with his right hand while being fouled.

If you didn’t get the message, he flexed and slapped his right bicep once he landed.

It wasn’t always smooth, but Cleveland overpowered Atlanta 104-93 in Game 1 of their second-round series Monday. The Cavaliers have won seven straight overall against the Hawks, including a sweep in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, and LeBron is now 9-0 against Atlanta in the playoffs.

“Obviously, you could tell that they went through a longer series than us,” said LeBron, whose Cavs swept the Pistons eight days ago. The Hawks beat the Celtics in six four days later.

Home Game 1 winners have won the series 85% of the time, and Atlanta will have its work cut out to become an exception.

LeBron’s offensive passiveness during Atlanta’s comeback was unwelcome, but when needed, he delivered. His 3-point play highlighted a 17-2 run that would’ve ended the game if not for a garbage-time 3-pointer by the Hawks. LeBron (25 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, five steals and a block) also stole the ball from red-hot Dennis Schröder on consecutive late possessions. This was two-way excellence when it counted, the type of production that has taken LeBron to five straight Finals.

The Cavaliers had such a big lead (18) to blow because they were hot from beyond the arc (15-for-31, 48%). When they missed, Tristan Thompson (seven offensive rebounds) got them extra opportunities.

Kevin Love (17 points and 11 rebounds) threw his body around enough to get a double-double despite shooting 4-for-17. Kyrie Irving (21 points on 8-of-18 shooting and eight assists) forced too many bad shots, but he made some tough ones and kept the ball moving.

At times, it seemed Irving was going one-on-one with Schröder (27 points on 5-of-10 3-point shooting and six assists). As impressive as Schröder was from beyond the arc and attacking the rim, Kent Bazemore (16 points, 12 rebounds and four assists) was his only reliable scoring sidekick.

After allowing 30 points in the first quarter, Atlanta cranked up it defense to the frenetic level showed against Boston. Millsap (17 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, four blocks and two steals), Al Horford (10 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two steals) and Bazemore (two steals) led the effort.

And Cleveland surrendered open 3s when the Hawks moved the ball, which they usually did. If they make more of those open looks, it’s easy to see them winning.

But can they win four of the next six games?

As long as LeBron plays for the Cavs, that’s a monumental challenge.