For six-and-a-half seasons in the “Big Apple,” Carmelo Anthony had some good times, and some rough times as the face of the New York Knicks. With a fourth straight season with no playoffs a season ago, the question was will “Melo” stay in New York, or would they grant his demand for a trade, that he would okay because of the no-trade clause in the contract he signed back in the summer of 2013. He was eventually traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a 2018 Second-Round Draft pick. He would make his long-awaited return to Madison Square Garden, and the contest would go just like his time in NYC.
A video tribute was played on the overhead scoreboard as part of the welcome back to Anthony from the fans, and the organization. It consisted of his stellar moments on the court, like his Garden setting 62-point, 13 rebound performance in a 125-96 win versus the then Charlotte Bobcats, to his charitable work in the community. The video finished with a simple conclusion, “Thank you Melo,” with his former jersey number, No. 7, and his last name in the middle.
When he was introduced during the introduction of the starting lineups, he received a warm ovation from the 19,763 in attendance.
When the game got underway, the Thunder, and Anthony got off to a strong start, where they led after the first quarter, the Knicks (16-13) found their footing, and defeated the Thunder (14-15) 111-96 on Saturday night, to win their fourth game in a row. They also stopped the Thunder’s three-game road winning streak, who won in triple-overtime 119-117 at the Philadelphia 76ers (14-14) the night before on ESPN.
Anthony, who received boos from the Garden once the contest began, and every time he touched the basketball scored all 12 of his points on the night in the first half, but was just 5 for 18 from the field, going 0 for 5 from the floor after intermission. It was just the fourth time in Anthony’s career that he has gone scoreless after halftime in game where he played 30-plus minutes.
“I’m glad that people basically understood what he put into this team,” NBATV analyst Brendan Haywood said of the ovation Anthony on the early Sunday morning edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by Kia Motors. “How much he sacrificed, and how many long hours he put in trying to be there leader, and he had a lot of great games, and great times here as well.”
Reigning MVP Russell Westbrook led had a team-high 25 points, to go along with seven rebounds, seven assists, and two steals on 9 for 18 from the field. Paul George had 18 points, nine boards, four assists, and two steals, going 4 for 7 from three-point range. Patrick Patterson had 12 points off the bench, going 4 for 6 from three-point range. Backup guard Raymond Felton had 10 points.
The Knicks, who were without star Kristaps Porzingis because of knee injury sustained in their 111-104 win at the Brooklyn Nets (11-18) on Thursday night were led by the game-high, and season-high of 30 points from Michael Beasley, on 11 for 18 shooting, with five rebounds, four assists, and two block shots. They were also without Tim Hardaway, Jr., who is no the shelf because of a leg injury.
“We always want to give guys like that a good homecoming, but it’s better for the upset in my book,” Beasley, who registered the 14th 30-point game of his career in 38 minutes on the night said to Madison Square Garden Networks’ Rebecca Haarlow after the win.
Courtney Lee had 20 points. McDermott had 11 of his 13 points off the bench in the second half, with eight points in the fourth quarter, and made 3 for 5 from three-point range on the evening. Jarrett Jack had 12 points, eight boards, seven assists, and three steals. His understudy Ron Baker had 11 points off the bench, hitting three triples himself. Kanter had 10 points, and five boards.
The Knicks avenged their defeat at the Thunder 105-84, on Oct. 19. Anthony had 22 points, despite going 8 for 20 from the floor, including 3 for 10 from three-point range. George led the way with 28 points, and six boards, hitting 6 for 13 from distance. Russell Westbrook had the first of his 10 triple-doubles on the season, and 89 in his career with 21 points, 16 assists, and 10 rebounds. Starting center Steven Adams, who did not play on Saturday night due to a concussion had 12 points, and five boards in that victory.
Following the Thunder’s triple-overtime win at the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night, Anthony addressed the media at his locker about what he expects when he takes the Garden floor.
“I think it will be an appreciation,” he said about how he expects to be greeted by the fans. “It’s not like I was there for a year, or a season, or two seasons. I spent a lot of time there, almost seven years there. It was great times, it was bad times, and regardless, I always stuck with it. I always remained professional. I always came in, and did my job, whether people liked it or not. So, hopefully the recognized that.”
The fans did recognize the great contributions from Anthony, who scored 27 points in his Knicks debut at the Garden on Feb. 23, 2011, a 114-108 win versus the Milwaukee Bucks.
Two straight First-Round exits in the postseason by the Celtics, and the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat 4-0, and 4-1 respectably, the Knicks defeated the C’s in the opening round of the 2013 postseason in six games. The would go down in the Semifinals in six games to the Eastern Conference runner-up that season the Indiana Pacers.
The Knicks thought that the 2012-13 season, where they won their first Atlantic Division title since the 1993-894 NBA campaign, and Anthony led the NBA in scoring with an average of 28.7 per contest was a sign that being an elite team in the East, and a serious title contender was a real possibility.
Unfortunately, what followed was four straight seasons of not making the playoffs, and the isolation offensive style that made Anthony, a perennial All-Star, and the third highest scoring average in Knicks’ history at 24.7 suddenly became a lightning rod for criticism from the local New York media, and the national media.
Things really came to fruition about Anthony’s eventual departure a season ago when former Knicks president Phil Jackson criticized Anthony seemingly daily in the press.
While all of this took place, all Anthony did was show the kind of professionalism, respect, and focus that should have been shown by the front office. Anthony especially showed that to the press, win or lose, and it was mostly after losses.
“I think somebody who wanted to be here,” Anthony, who in seven of the Thunder’s last nine games has scored under 15 points said after game on how he wanted people to remember him about his six-plus seasons as a Knick. “Came here. Did what he had to do night in, and night out, whether people liked it or not. Remained positive through all the negative situations. All the negative times. Stuck with it, through good times. Through bad times. Never wavered. Somebody who stayed professional throughout my seven years here. And somebody who had hopes, and dreams of winning a championship here in New York, and fell short at that.”
That ability to handle a difficult situation, which would have broken even the toughest, and greatest of pro athletes made Anthony a hero in the eyes of Knicks fans, and earned him a lot of respect from his now former teammates, and a NBA champion from the 2004 Detroit Pistons.
“Melo represent so much of what New York is all about. He really conducted himself like a real New York guy,” center Joakim Noah said. “I love being around Melo.”
“From one side, I was sad that he wasn’t going to be here with us anymore this year. But I was also happy for him that he found a team where he can be close to what he wants to achieve, and take on a new challenge,” Porzingis said.
“I’m going to miss ‘Melo,’” Lance Thomas said. “’Melo’ my best friend on this team. He knows that I wish him the best, and I want him to be as successful as he wants to be.”
“I thought he handled himself really well. Very professional,” former Pistons guard Richard “Rip” Hamilton said. “Guy like myself, I don’t know if I would have handled myself just as great as he’d done. He always answered every question in the media. Always came to play each, and every night. Performed at the highest level. Never got down on his teammates. I thought that it was the year that he had all the veterans, Jason Kidd, and Rasheed (Wallace). A lot of veteran guys around him. Then the team kind of went young, he never put his head down. Always played with the team that he had. Never got down on coaches, and things like that. So, thought he handled his time in New York, very, very professionally.”
When the Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony nearly seven seasons back, they thought that they would build themselves into a team that would be in position to win their first championship since 1973.
While Anthony worked his way into becoming the No. 7 leading scorer in franchise history with 10,186 points; No. 3 in three-pointers made at 762; and 10th in field goals made at 3,627, the record of the team in those 6.5 seasons was an abysmal 221-283.
He had 84 total teammates in that span, and a total of five head coaches, Mike D’Antoni, who is now the head man of the Houston Rockets; Mike Woodson, who is now an assistant coach on the Los Angeles Clippers coaching staff; Derek Fisher; Kurt Rambis; and current Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek.
“The ‘Melo,’ I would characterize it as a lot of great stats. A lot of great individual performances. Fell short in the wins department, but you can’t have everything,” Haywood said. “‘Melo’ is definitely going to be a Hall of Famer, and a lot of that is going to be because of some of these big time, and performances he had in a New York Knick uniform.”
Right now, Anthony’s main concern is helping the Thunder, who had high expectations this season, have really struggled, and so as Anthony, who came in averaging career-lows of 18.0 points, on 41.0 percent from the field, the third lowest in “The Association” for the 34 qualified players who average 15-plus shot attempts per game this season. George at 40.8 percent coming into the game on Saturday night was the second lowest, and Westbrook at 38.4 is the lowest.
If there is anything that we learned about Carmelo Anthony from his time in the “Big Apple,” is besides being a great basketball player, he was a leader on, and off the court. The previously third best scorer per game in Knicks’ history behind Hall of Famers Bob McAdoo (26.7), and Bernard King (26.5) had a respect for the position he was in. He took the challenge of being the face of the New York Knicks. He cultivated friendships with his teammates that continue even though is with a new team. Above all, he was, and is the truest definition of a professional athlete, and the only thing left for him to achieve is to win a championship. Whether that will happen remains to be scene, but the four-time Olympic Gold Medal winner will surely put his best foot forward to make that happen.
“I became entrenched into not just the Knicks, but the city as a whole,” he said on Thursday night. “Those are my roots. The people there, I became one of them. I’ve embraced New York City. I embraced the culture. I embraced everything about that city. I’m definitely motivated.”
He elaborated on that by saying after the loss, “I will always be kind of a part of this culture here, and for me it’s different than any other basketball player that comes through here that play with the Knicks because it’s deeper than basketball when it comes to me, and this city.”
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 2/23/17 www.nytimes.com article “Anthony Makes Knicks Debut with 27 Points,” by Jonathan Abrams; 12/16/17 7:30 p.m. contest Oklahoma City Thunder versus New York Knicks on the Madison Square Garden Network, presented by Chase with Mike Breen, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Al Trautwig, and Rebecca Haarlow; 12/17/17 2 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by Kia Motors with Matt Winer, Richard “Rip” Hamilton, and Brendan Haywood; www.nba.com/games/20171216/OKCNYK#/boxscore; www.espn.com/nba/standings; http://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/20141240NYK.html; www.espn.com/nba/team/schedule/_/name/ny/new-york-knicks; and https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_York_Knicks_seasons.