He could’ve left the game at halftime with 37 points, or even after the third quarter with 56, and that would’ve been the absolutely wrong thing to do. Even with the game safely in hand — how often has that happened this season at the Garden? — Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks wanted and needed to pile it on.
And so, 62 points it was, the final bucket coming on a drive and layup, maybe the easiest two of a historic night. Bernard King’s Garden record was officially erased and yet it was much more than that. It was Melo re-establishing himself as an NBA star (in case some forgot), and the Knicks giving their fans a reason to scream, and for one night the Knicks putting aside a half-season of grief.
“The fans,” said Melo. “I hadn’t heard them like that since last year.”
What Melo did was make you remember what New York can be like when good theater is filling the Garden and all is right in the basketball sense. Because for much of this season, the Knicks have done their best — or their worst — to put the glory days of Patrick Ewing and Willis Reed and Red Holzman far, far in the rear view. Heck, the Knicks had a look of intrigue last season, or at least the first few months, when they captured the imagination of a basketball-starved city. And then those dreams crumbled: injuries, an allergic reaction to defense, JR Smith’s immaturity, etc., etc., all conspiring to make it feel like the Isiah Thomas Era all over again.
Despite it all, what Melo did Friday was remind everyone that the Knicks do have a star. Say what you will about Melo lacking the intangibles to align himself next to LeBron and Durant. When his shot is working, as it was against the Bobcats, he has no peer in the game today. None. There is nobody else in basketball — and that includes Kevin Durant — with Anthony’s variety of one-on-one skills. And he had them all on display on the night in which he put King in second place.
“We all needed it,” said Anthony. “I needed it. “We needed it as a morale booster.”
Here’s why the Knicks needed to see it: By going nuts on the scoreboard, Melo re-discovered the joy of playing in New York. You know, in case he forgot. Just a few days earlier, he was hanging his head in frustration at yet another feeble Knicks effort. Suddenly, everyone in New York felt uneasy about Melo’s chances of signing long-term with the team this summer, when he could become an unrestricted free agent if he chooses to opt out of the final year of his contract.
But the reason Melo strong-armed his way out of Denver, and the reason he will re-up with the Knicks, is because of nights like this, when he can own the city. You see, that means very much to Melo (and his show-business wife). He wants all the pressure and all the rewards of being a star in New York. Much like Derek Jeter and Eli Manning (who forced a draft-day trade from San Diego) and Ewing, Melo has the chops to deal with the bad times, and is willing to do that because the rewards of winning are so tremendous.
“This was fun,” he said.
It was special. And while Melo’s 62 will never replace the four points Willis Reed dropped in the same building before limping back off the floor, it reminded everyone that he brings a presence. All he needs now is help.