Carmelo Anthony looked like the player people believe he can be, an elite superstar in the NBA, just like LeBron and Wade and Kobe and Wade, for the first time this season. If his 43 points, a season high for the 8 year veteran, weren’t enough to please New York Knicks fans, his huge three pointer with 8 second left in overtime, giving them a 100-99 win over the Chicago Bulls, certainly did.
For the Bulls, losing for the 14th time this season (tied with San Antonio for the fewest losses), the first place in the East is still safe. For now. But the most worrisome thing in the game was how they let it slip away. Their impressive comeback in the third quarter led by Derrick Rose, their dominant fourth quarter with great defense, big shots and building a lead out of nowhere was all championship material. Finishing like you expect the really good teams to.
But as the Knicks chipped away, the Bulls’ free throw problems re-appeared. They reared their head in the series against the Miami Heat last season as well. They missed four consecutive shots at the end of regulation from the line, including two by Derrick Rose, that could have put the game away and gave Rose a satisfying ending to his comeback night.
But it’s a forgotten fact that Carmelo Anthony is the best clutch shooter in the NBA. How good? He’s 24-52 in game tying or go ahead shots in the final 15 seconds of games for his career. During that span, his 46.2% is the best among all the NBA players, including Kobe Bryant who comes in at second place. Anthony hit the game tying shot to send the game into overtime. Anthony hit the game winner, both in similar fashion, over outstretched hands.
The Bulls did a lot of things right over the course of the game. Defense, especially, was great. Noah coming out, the zone-like defense was simply too much for the Knicks to handle for most of the second half. Crashing the offensive boards, coming up with 18. There was a certain lineup, that had both Noah and Asik out, as Boozer, Gibson, Deng, Korver and Rose seemed too much for the Knicks to handle.
Tyson Chandler looked out of place against that ‘small’ lineup, while Chicago didn’t seem to lose anything on the defensive side against New York, who played like we expect them to. Isolation, simple to contain, without any real though behind the offensive plays. But clutch shooting that had nothing to do with good plays or not brought them back, and made Thibodeau lose a bit of his concentration. His players faltered with him.
Anthony thrived on the energy from the Garden crowd, from Mike Woodson, who is still in that positive period of his tenure as the New York Knicks coach. There’s certainly a problem with a point guard – Baron Davis doesn’t seem up to the task at the moment while Jeremy Lin sits and rubs his knees. But Carmelo is thriving in the Knicks offense designed to make the most of him, to play for him. The rest of the guys just follow and play hard. Basketball isn’t such a complicated game when you find someone and something to play for.
The Knicks are still in 8th, with a very possible reunion clash against the Chicago Bulls in the postseason. The two teams meet very soon in the regular season as well. Amare Stoudemire will be back soon, and when J.R. Smith doesn’t take 22 field goal attempts he can be quite difficult to handle. After all the ups and downs this season, the Knicks are a bit below were they expected to be, but Carmelo Anthony, finally, seems to be comfortable and excelling as their leader and best player.