Oh, what a night. As it always seems to at least once a year regardless of how good the Knicks are, the basketball world's attention turned to Madison Square Garden on Friday night as embattled Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony went off for a career-high, building-high, year-high, franchise-high, everything-high 62 points against the unsuspecting Charlotte Bobcats in a blowout New York victory. At the halfway point of an NBA season already packed with countless memorable moments, Melo's 62 marks the year's most unforgettable, truest "Where Were You When?" moment. (I was at Raptors-Sixers in Philly, trying desperately to avoid the increasingly unavoidable media chatter over the game--"Did you see he's up to 49??"--so I could get home and watch the game fresh.)
But even though Anthony's general performance will undoubtedly endure forever as an iconic moment in player, franchise and league history, most of the specifics of the game will be lost to time--at least until the game starts airing five times a week on ESPN Classic and NBA TV in the off-season, and the MSG Network airs a special one-hour behind-the-scenes documentary on the game with plenty of never-before-seen footage (narrated by Matthew Modine, natch). In the meantime, though, I want to make sure we get the details of this one down for prosperity, before the game becomes just a hazy memory of three-pointers, standing ovations and lazy switching defense. Here were my ten favorite soon-to-be forgotten moments and subplots from the season's must-watch performance.
1. This was supposed to be a tough matchup for Melo and the Knicks. Given that the Bobcats appear to be in the midst of a long-overdue performance regression and might be at serious risk of bottoming out over the next few weeks, I have a feeling that we're gonna look at this game ten years from now and be like "Well he got 62, but it was only against the Bobcats." But as bad as they've been lately--and lest we forget, they were coming off two consecutive wins against plus-.500 teams when they made the trip to MSG--the Hornets-to-be not only had a better record than the Knicks before the game, but they had outplayed the Knicks in two of their three earlier meetups that season, and have generally been one of the most stalwart defensive teams in the league all year.
Small Forward and lockdown wing defender Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, in particular, had had tremendous success guarding Carmelo Anthony straight up, with Anthony shooting only 30% with MKG as his primary defender in the teams' three previous matchups. On the Friday episode of NBA TV's "The Starters," Tas Melas called this game the League Pass matchup of the night--the correct call for the incorrect reason, as Melas anticipated a duel at the very least between the elite offensive and defensive players. Kidd-Gilchrist wasn't the only Bobber to get toasted by Anthony on Friday, but toasted he indeed was, particularly in a stretch to begin the third quarter when Melo hit on four in a row with MKG as his main opponent. If this was a duel, some saboteur gave Kidd-Gilchrist a faulty pistol.
Points to the MSG Newtork for rubbing salt in the second-year player's wounds with this graphic, by the way:
2. In addition to scoring 62, Melo also grabbed 13 rebounds. Anthony's ridiculous work on the glass this year is one of the main credits to his roundly underrated season, as he's averaging a team-high nine a game while also shouldering the Knicks' primary scoring (and occasionally even the primary distributing) responsibilities. Friday at the Garden was no exception, as Carmelo grabbed 13 boards--12 of them defensive, so it wasn't even one of those nights he padded those stats by getting his own rebound a million times--in the midst of getting his 62 points. Not bad for a night's work.
And while some might get on Carmelo for not having a single assist in the game--the only 60+-pointer in Baksetball-Reference's post-'85 database with zero dimes besides (you guessed it) Kobe's 61 at MSG five years ago--keep in mind that he didn't have a single turnover, either. And also, the goose egg in the column is really mostly Raymond Felton's fault, as Melo hit him for wide open looks behind the arc on three separate occasions, with Felton bricking two of the looks and passing up to J.R. Smith on a third. And it's not like Melo was forcing any of his looks up until the very end--hell, he was 20-26 at one point. What good reason did he have to keep passing, exactly?
3. For a brief moment, it was a Carmelo Anthony vs. Jannero Pargo showdown. Floating in and out of the league for over a decade now, Jannero Pargo always seems to resurface where you least expect him to. On Friday night, he was momentarily the Bobcats' best answer to Carmelo Anthony, as he hit his first four shots of the game--three of them threes--in the late first and early second, most with Anthony as the primary defender, looking like he might be able to go toe-to-toe with the Melo Man for the evening. Then he shot 0-7 for the rest of the game, and finished with just the 11 points in 32 minutes of action. And that, my friends, is why Carmelo Anthony is Carmelo Anthony, and why Jannero Pargo remains Jannero Pargo, now and forever.
4. Al Jefferson also casually dominated the Knicks' front lines. Jefferson hung an easy 25 points (on 11-19 shooting) to go with nine rebounds in just over a half-hour of PT, though a good deal of that came in the third quarter after Carmelo had already given the Knicks enough separation with his scoring that it didn't really matter. On a couple of Big Al's late buckets, Tyson Chandler didn't even to seem to really bother giving a full contest, seemingly as excited as everyone else in the building to get back on offense and see what Melo was gonna do next. The situation was succinctly (and accurately) summarized by Knicks announcer Mike Breen on Jefferson's final bucket: "He's got 25...but nobody cares."
5. Playing the Kent Bazemore role on the evening was onetime Knicks franchise player Amar'e Stoudemire. He may be getting paid nearly $22 million this year, but let it never be said that Amar'e Stoudemire is above playing the role of the 12th man. As much as the entire Knicks' bench was freaking out over Carmelo's scoring explosion, nobody seemed more excited for Anthony than the injured Stoudemire, who was a smiling, cheering fool all evening, and even played the Famous Flame to Melo's James Brown at times throughout the evening, incessantly and exaggeratedly doing the "THAT BOY HAWT!!" towel wave when Anthony went to the bench. Just being a good teammate, s'pose--and STAT's been in the zone like that before, too--but it'd be hard to imagine Kobe doing the same if, say, Kendall Marshall went supernova like that.
6. Jeremy Tyler and Cole Aldrich featured prominently. With no Amar'e, no Kenyon Martin and even no Andrea Bargnani, Mike Woodson was forced to reach deeeeeeep in his bench to come up with a decent nine-man rotation on the evening. Likely much to his surprise, he actually got fairly good production from his two young emergency reserves, with Aldrich grabbing eight boards and Tyler posting a resounding eight points and five rebounds. It could be just the beginning for the two high-upside frontcourt players, but perhaps more likely, it could be the thing that makes us squeal most with delight when we watch the game after years away from it, to remember that these two career Summer Leaguers both played such a considerable part.
7. Neither of the Knicks' best highlights featured Carmelo Anthony. All right, maybe if you count the half-court shot--and you probably gotta count the half-court shot:
But aside from that, the two best plays on the night came from the oft-maligned J.R. Smith, who had one of his best overall games as a Knick this season with 14 points (on actual plus-.500 shooting!!) and four assists, two of which were just oh so pretty:
I do like that Jeremy Tyler. Has a 21-plus PER! Only 63 minutes of game action, but just sayin'.
8. Knicks commentator Al Trautwig had the question of the night. After the half-court, half-ending buzzer-beater: "Carmelo, are you kidding me?" Anthony seemed to really consider the question, perhaps not really understanding how to answer the full scope of it, before Martin clarified and asked about something more specific. I kinda wish he had just let the Q linger, though, especially if Melo eventually answered "No," shrugged his shoulders and just left. What else was there to say?
9. The leader of a 16-26 team was showered with "M-V-P!! M-V-P!!" chants. Understandable, if wildly inaccurate, of course. I've written about it before, but this is why we, the basketball fan public, just need to come up with more, better free-throw-line chants. This might've been a chance to break out the "THANK-YOU-ME-LO!!" clap chant at the stripe--a recognition of a superlative individual performance in the midst of an incredibly disappointing team season. But just defaulting to a chant that ignores all facts and reality in the service of rewarding one game's worth of transcendent play...lazy, lazy. We can do better, guys.
10. It all wrapped with over half a quarter still to go. It's an unfortunate function of the high-scoring NBA performance that it can be kept from reaching its true ceiling by the opposing team not playing well enough for the leader's continued presence to be required on the floor late in the fourth quarter. Melo only played 38.8 minutes in the game, fewer than all but two of the 17 60-point performances since '85--Karl Malone once had 61 and 18 in just 33 minutes, which, yikes--and really could have sat the whole fourth quarter had Mike Woodson decided it wasn't worth leaving him out there to chase points 61 and 62. But had the Bobcats managed to keep it a game, maybe Melo gets to play the last half of that quarter, and who knows how much further he could've gotten? We could be talking about just the second 70-point game of the 21st century today.