Carmelo Anthony scored 42 points Tuesday night. He grabbed 17 rebounds. He had six assists.
The Knicks still lost, 96-93, to the Boston Celtics. They now trail the best-of-seven series, which is headed to New York, 2-0.
If you watch the above video -- a compilation of the former Towson Catholic star's scoring plays that lasts more than four and a half minutes -- you'll see him do it all: he gets to the rim, he hits 3s, he beats double-teams, he beats-triple teams, he scores on put-backs, he even gets unreasonably lucky on an errant shot that banked off the top of the glass and through the rim. As I watched, I couldn't help but recall the Anthony that most of the nation first came to know, the one wearing the bright orange of a Syracuse jersey.
Eight years later, Anthony has a different haircut, his muscles have filled out and his game has matured. Yet there's still something about the way he plays that makes him appear, to some, un-serious. There seemed to be a feeling heading into Syracuse's national title game against Kansas all those years ago that the Jayhawks had the advantage because they were the more veteran, battle-tested squad. There was truth to that, but it was also a reflection of the doubt people seemed to have about Anthony, the kid they saw loping down the court all tied up in his own smile instead of locked down by gritted teeth and a set jaw.
Despite the way he played in that game and so many after it, he can't shed the stigma of not being an elite winner. I'm not sure there's a better NBA writer working today than Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski. He used his column after the game to chastise Anthony for passing the ball instead of taking the final shot and then seeming cavalier about the loss in the locker room.
Here's a look at the final sequence.
For a step-by-step breakdown of this final play, visit NBA Playbook. They've got you covered in expert fashion. We'll say only this: holy crap was Jared Jeffries open. Open enough, in fact, to moot the point that he's Jared Jeffries and probably shouldn't have the ball with the game on the line.
Wojnarowski decries Anthony's lack of killer instinct there, but can you imagine if Anthony had ducked under a bunch of arms and hoisted the ball to the rim off of one foot? The play would be all over your television screen with a wide open Jeffries circled in yellow each time. (Melo was, in fact, ripped repeatedly for forcing a shot at the end of Game 1.) Anthony made a good play, and said as much in the locker room afterward: "I made the right play," Anthony said. "The right play was to go to Jared. … I thought Jared was going to lay it up … I made the right play so I can live with that." This rankles Wojnarowski, or at least it does in conjunction with the rest of Anthony's post-game talk (he also takes umbrage with Anthony's lackadaisical effort chasing down Delonte West with seconds left in the game).
Not everyone was critical of Anthony, of course. Several New York writers described his effort in glowing terms. Frank Isola of the Daily News dubbed it the Knicks' proudest moment in 10 years. Playing without their two other good players, Amar'e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups, due to injury, New York got exactly what it wanted when it swung a deal for a player everyone acknowledged was as talented as any in the game. But after all that, there remains this restlessness around the way people feel about Anthony. It's not enough, what he did, not if he can sit back after the game and call it "fun." That's not what winners do; at least not publicly.
Anthony has gone through a difficult season of trade rumors and then a move across country because this is also what he wanted. After years of playoff failure and seeing his name left out of conversations involving Kobe and Wade and even LeBron, Anthony became convinced that the stage is what mattered. Tuesday night he performed well. Some of the criticisms are valid. Anthony should have chased West sooner. He should have been more sullen than satisfied after a loss.
But he also needs to be the same kid who maybe didn't understand what he was supposed to be up against in that national title game. Confidence born of naivete isn't something we're accustomed to. In the world of Kobe and Michael we've glorified the guy who motivates himself by knowing -- and hating -- every possible challenger. Anthony seems better when he's trapped in the moment, playing just to play.
He was good enough Tuesday to almost beat a former NBA championship team with very little help. The only question now is whether he can meld that sort of effort with one that will successfully work Billups and Stoudemire into the game.