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.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo beats Celtics with late-game tip-in, series goes 2-2 (VIDEO)

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It was an exciting finish in Milwaukee on Sunday, where the Bucks took home a win on their home court to level the series against the Boston Celtics, 2-2.

The game came down to the wire, with 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon giving the Bucks the lead after a corner 3-pointer with just 33.5 seconds left. The Celtics responded with a sideline out of bounds play that resulted in Al Horford tying the game with free throws.

On their final possession, the Bucks again went to Brogdon, who missed on a layup driving to the left side of the floor. Luckily, Giannis Antetokounmpo was there to follow with the tip-in with just five seconds left.

Via ESPN:

Boston was unable to convert on a final play, and Milwaukee grabbed the win, 104-102.

Game 5 will be in Boston on Tuesday.

Report: Ime Udoka, Ettore Messina, David Fizdale to interview for Hornets job

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The Charlotte Hornets have a new GM in Mitch Kupchak. Upon taking the helm, Kupchak made short work of firing head coach Steve Clifford.

Now, the Hornets need a new coach and they have quite a few names to choose from.

According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Hornets will be interviewing current San Antonio Spurs assistants Ime Udoka and Ettore Messina along with former Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale.

Via Twitter:

All three have extensive coaching experience under their belts. Udoka played in the NBA for seven seasons and has been an assistant coach in San Antonio since 2012.

Messina is a four-time Euroleague champion as a coach, and a two-time winner of the Euroleague Coach of the Year award. He’s coached abroad and in the U.S. since 1989, and he’s been with the Spurs since 2014.

Fizdale coached the Grizzlies for two seasons. Before that he was a longtime assistant coach with the Miami Heat under Erik Spoelstra.

Hornets star Kemba Walker said that who the team chose as GM would influence his decision to re-sign after 2018-19. Walker loved Clifford, so who Charlotte picks as coach could carry significant weight with Walker as well.

LeBron James, Cavaliers hope to even series with Pacers

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — LeBron James has been in this playoff position before, just not in the first round.

With Cleveland down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers in the first round, James was asked if Game 4 in Indianapolis Sunday was a must win.

“It’s the postseason,” said James, who is 10-0 in his career in first-round playoff series with Cleveland and Miami. “Every game is a must win. You want to come in and play well and win no matter what. No matter if you have home-court advantage or if you’re starting on the road, that’s the mindset you have to have. I felt like (Friday) was a must win. We didn’t win, obviously, but it’s the same mindset on Sunday.”

James, who scored 28 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and delivered eight assists in a 92-90 road loss Friday night, rejected what he felt were reporters’ attempts to ask if the other players needed to do more.

“You guys think I’m going to throw my teammates under the bus? I’m not about that,” James said. “Guys just, we have to be better, including myself. Had six turnovers (Friday). I was horrible in the third quarter, couldn’t make a shot. If I had made some better plays in the third quarter, the lead doesn’t skip.”

The Pacers cut a 17-point halftime deficit to six points in the third quarter and finally took their first lead in the fourth quarter.

“We know we all gotta play better as a collective group, no matter who it is,” James said. “We got production to start the game and in the second half there wasn’t much production. We still had a chance to win. We’ve got to regroup and figure how we can be better in Game 4.”

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said the Cavaliers were limited because George Hill‘s back “locked up” in the second half. Hill played only nine minutes in the second half, scoring two of his 13 points. Lue used James and Jordan Clarkson rather than backup point guard Jose Calderon in the fourth quarter. If Hill can’t go Sunday, Lue said he will likely start Calderon.

Hill had an MRI on Saturday, but the results weren’t back. He is listed as questionable for Game 4 with back spasms. Hill was hurt during Game 1 when Trevor Booker set a back screen and felt stiffness before Game 2, but played 20 minutes.

For the Pacers, Bojan Bogdanovic was the difference maker, scoring 15 of his team-high 30 points in the fourth quarter. Bogdanovic struggled shooting the first two games of the series.

Bogdanovic, who made 7 of 9 3-pointers, kept his focus after two quick fouls in the first quarter and had to leave briefly in the fourth when he picked up his fifth foul. The seven 3-pointers tied a franchise playoff record, also held by Reggie Miller twice, Chuck Person and Paul George.

“I thought it was going to be another poor performance from myself, but in the second half I started hitting shots and started feeling (much) better and I think a did a great job (Friday night),” the Croatian forward said.

Bogdanovic said he was most pleased with his defense against James.

“Everybody thought before this season that I cannot play defense,” he said. “I don’t say that I am playing great defense, but I am working hard at trying to make it tough for each offensive player that I am guarding.”

Bogdanovic said he tries to push James so he catches the ball far from the basket.

“Against those type of players you just try to stay aggressive on them,” Bogdanovic said.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan was impressed with his ability to produce both ways.

“You’re taking a pounding if you’re on the defensive end of the floor if you’re guarding LeBron,” McMillan said. “But offensively he found some energy. He got some good looks and he knocked them down.”

The Pacers came back to win eight times during the regular season after being down 15 or more points.

“We’ve been resilient,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “We made an adjustment in the second half and it helped us. But it’s only one game; I’m looking forward to Sunday.”

Rumor: Portland coach Terry Stotts could lose job after being swept out of playoffs

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Regular season: Terry Stotts was mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate after leading the Portland Trail Blazers to 49 wins and the three seed in the West, led by a top 10 defense.

Playoffs: Portland was swept out of the postseason in the first round by Anthony Davis.

The latter part of that is going to lead to some real soul searching and changes coming to the Trail Blazers. That could include Stotts losing his job, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

There is plenty of blame to go around for Portland’s quick exit from the postseason, Stein is right that it’s not all on Stott’s shoulders. In fact, I would argue most of it is not.

However, this is the third time in four years Portland is out in the first round, and it leads to the question “what is it about their style that makes them so defendable and beatable in the playoffs?” This is a little like Toronto in recent years, where despite a lot of talent they were predictable and therefore defendable in the postseason. How much of that falls on Stotts vs. the roster he has to coach?

After a period of reflection in Portland, there are going to be changes in the wake of this sweep. Stotts’ job will be part of that discussion, no matter how good a job he did. The question for Blazers management is, if not Stotts then who is next? Who are they getting that’s better?

That said, if Stotts were to be let go he would hand on his feet very quickly.