Carmelo Anthony needed it to go down. When the ball left his hand, from a deep 27 feet out and his New York Knicks down three points in the final seconds, the much-maligned, under-the-microscope Anthony would have willed the ball through the hoop if he could. He could only watch, as did the sell out crowd at Madison Square Garden, with bated breath. And like the crowd, Anthony erupted in a frenzy when it rattled in, tying the Knicks with the Chicago Bulls at 91 apiece, putting his team a defensive stop away from overtime in a crucial game.
Had the Knicks fell in overtime, which for a while looked likely, Anthony would still have been able to hold his head up. Against a superior opponent, one of the best defenses in the league and with his own team battered, injured and struggling with its shooting, Anthony did what he does better than most in the NBA. He found ways to score. As the Knicks stayed in it with tough defense, led by Iman Shumpert and Tyson Chandler, they still needed points, and Anthony stepped up.
But again, all Anthony's last-second regulation three did was extend the game for five more minutes. With their playoff positioning in question, the Knicks desperately needed to find a way to win after blowing an early lead, only to come back frantically themselves. If not, it would have been just another in the long line of disappointing results from the 2012 season.
But on Sunday, Anthony gave Knicks fans what they'd been waiting for since last February when he came here with much fanfare and equally as much criticism...his signature Knicks moment. With his team down by two and with the ball, and with 45 seconds remaining Anthony was denied on a drive to the lane. He got the ball back, went up, and was blocked by Taj Gibson. Chandler got one of his signature offensive tap-out rebounds, and the Knicks had another shot. The ball swung to Anthony, who passed (the right play, and what his most harsh critics refuse to acknowledge he'd ever do with a game on the line) to J.R. Smith who bricked a three. There was Chandler, tapping out the board again, and that's where Carmelo knew what to do.
In that situation, the prudent play is probably to drive the ball again and try to earn a foul or kick the ball out to an open shooter. But that tactic had failed just seconds earlier. The Knicks' best chance of winning the game was with Anthony's hands on the ball, finding an inch where he could get a look at the basket. That spot happened to find itself in that near-identical spot, about 27 feet out, on the right wing. Didn't matter that there was a 6-9 defender in his face, all Anthony needed was a slight look. He got it, and drilled it again.
It sure helped that in regulation, the Bulls had four late free throws, two apiece by Derrick Rose and Luol Deng. Had just one of them gone down, Melo's great moment would have never come to fruition. But let's for once celebrate who did what right, not wrong. Missed shots are part of basketball, and the Knicks still needed to make shots. Sunday is the exact reason they got Anthony, and there has only been one other performance since he came to New York in which Anthony gave the Knicks and their fans this type of memorable show. That came in a loss, in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs against the Boston Celtics, where Anthony was clearly the best player on the floor. But late in that game, with a chance to win it, Anthony passed -- again, probably the right play - to Jared Jeffries, who fumbled the ball and never got it up for a shot. It was an unbelievable game by Anthony, one that not many players in the league are truly capable of putting up. But the memory of it isn't fond, since the Knicks lost the game, and eventually the series.
Just like last year's team in the playoffs, this Knicks team is battered with injuries. There's no Jeremy Lin, no Amare Stoudemire. With the Knicks trying to hold on to a playoff spot, the Knicks' best chance to win games is through the hands of Anthony. There simply isn't enough reliable offense throughout the rest of the roster. If Anthony performs like he has been the past few weeks, culminating of course with Sunday's unbelievably clutch feat, the Knicks have a chance to make some noise.
The Anthony detractors hang on their opinion that he isn't a real star. He's a great scorer, not a great player. Perhaps they're right. Maybe he'll never be the main cog of a championship team. Maybe he'll never get close to one. But instead of already writing his legacy for him, let's take a step outside and let him do the telling. Sunday was a great moment for Anthony, for the Knicks, for their fans.
Let's hope it's one of many.