With two of the New York Knicks' top players down and out with injuries, it was time for Carmelo Anthony to step up.
Despite suffering a groin injury of his own, Anthony scored 28 points and hauled in 12 rebounds in his best scoring effort in quite some time to help the Knicks to a 89-80 victory over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks. The win got the Knicks back to .500 at 25-25 and put them 2.5 games ahead of the Bucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
It wasn't an offensive basketball fan's dream. The teams combined for 36 percent shooting from the field and 43 turnovers. Early on, however, it looked like the Bucks might run away with the game thanks to the white-hot shooting of Mike Dunleavy. Off the bench, Dunleavy had 24 first half points, helping the Bucks to a five-point advantage at the break. At one point in the second quarter, Dunleavy had 12 straight points and the Bucks led by nine, but the second half was a totally different story. The Bucks scored just 26 points in the third and fourth quarters, with Dunleavy scoring just two.
It wasn't a brilliant shooting night for Anthony, who made eight of his 20 shot attempts, but the Knicks' best scorer found his way to the free throw line 12 times and made each one. It was the type of game the Knicks needed from Anthony, with Amare Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin both sidelined with injuries. Stoudemire is out indefinitely with a bulging disk in his back, and if he's out for a long period of time, more of the scoring load will fall on Anthony. Hopefully for the Knicks' sake, Anthony's groin doesn't become a bigger issue.
Free throw shooting in general was huge for the Knicks, as they scored just about a third of their points from the stripe. They needed it badly, given that most of the team struggled mightily from the field. Baron Davis started in place of Lin and played a season-high 34 minutes, finishing with 13 points on 3-of-12 shooting and seven assists. Davis also committed eight of the Knicks' 23 turnovers. Off the bench, J.R. Smith was only able to make three out of 13 shots, but found another way to contribute by pulling down 10 rebounds.
Just as the Knicks struggled, the Bucks (22-27) helped out with poor shooting of their own. Brandon Jennings, who usually gives the Knicks fits, attempted 22 shots but made just six. Newly acquired Monta Ellis was silent, finishing with just four points.
The Knicks can't afford to have any more of their key players miss time. Anthony figures to play through his groin injury as long as possible, just as he has all year through other nagging injuries. Whether or not the Knicks are at full strength, they'll have to win games the way they did on Monday, by grinding it out.