BOSTON — In a season of improvement, this was a day of regression.
This was Carmelo Anthony‘s year. Though the numbers don’t really show it, he matured this season, learned to trust his teammates, and learned how to be a great scorer without stopping the ball so much. He made quicker, smarter decisions.
On Sunday though, with his New York Knicks trying to close out the Boston Celtics, Anthony seemingly turned back the clock and played like it was 2011 again. He tried to beat the Celtics by himself, and his regression helped Boston stave off elimination with a 97-90, overtime victory. The series now heads back to New York for Game 5 on Wednesday.
Anthony’s regression basically trumped Raymond Felton‘s podium game. The Knicks’ point guard continued to tear up Boston’s pick-and-roll defense, tying his season high with 27 points, 16 of them as the Knicks came back from a 20-point deficit in the third quarter. As great an on-ball defender as Avery Bradley is, he couldn’t stay in front of Felton, who gave the Knicks their only lead of the game with a pick-and-roll, pull-up jumper with just over a minute to go in regulation.
The Knicks even had success when Anthony ran the pick-and-roll. Their 5-0 run to tie the game in the final minutes of the fourth quarter came off two Anthony/Tyson Chandler pick-and-rolls, one that produced an open Iman Shumpert 3-pointer, and another that got Anthony an easy drive to the basket.
But too many times, Anthony preferred to play isolation basketball. And too many times, he forced bad shots. In fact, on the two Knicks possessions that sandwiched Felton’s go-ahead jumper, Anthony ran five different isolations (thanks to three offensive rebounds from his teammates). Those five isolations produced four missed shots, two missed free throws, and zero points.
This wasn’t the worst game of Anthony’s career. On an afternoon when his team was struggling to score, he was able to get to the free throw line 20 times. Eleven of those trips helped keep the Knicks within striking distance in the first half.
But Anthony finished the game 10-for-35 from the field and 0-for-7 from 3-point range, adding seven turnovers. Of his 35 shots, 19 came from mid-range, the least efficient area of the floor.
“He missed some shots,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said, “but as a team, we couldn’t make shots.”
But Anthony missed more shots than any three of his teammates combined. He had just two assists, and the Knicks had just 10 as a team.
It was a bad game, nothing more than that. The Knicks’ 3-0 series lead afforded him such, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to redeem himself going forward. He’ll also have J.R. Smith back from his one-game suspension, though Anthony wouldn’t admit that Smith’s absence played a roll in his own tunnel-vision.
“I missed him out there,” Anthony said of Smith. “But J.R. being out there doesn’t change the way I shoot the basketball. Those are the shots I’ve been taking the whole series. They weren’t falling tonight. My mother always said, ‘There’ll be days like this.’ We’ll take it for what it’s worth, put this one behind us, and get ready for Wednesday.”
If Smith’s absence wasn’t a fact, the Celtics’ defense was. Boston had no intention of rolling over and seeing their season end any earlier than it had to. They dug in and made the Knicks work for their baskets.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers went back to his original starting lineup, believing it would be better defensively, and Brandon Bass proved him right. Before eventually fouling out, Bass took on the Anthony assignment and defended the league’s leading scorer about as well as you can.
“He was the star of the game, as far as I’m concerned,” Rivers said of Bass. “He just defended, and did it over and over and over again.”
“The more he does it, the fresher Paul [Pierce], the fresher Jeff [Green] can be offensively for us.”
Pierce and Green were indeed fresh offensively, combining for 55 of the Celtics’ 97 points. Kevin Garnett hit two big jumpers down the stretch and Jason Terry scored Boston’s final nine points in overtime. It was the definition of a team win for the prideful Celtics.
But none of that would have mattered if Anthony didn’t try to beat them all by himself.
“I was trying to win the basketball game,” he said. “It would have been a great feeling to close it out here in Boston, so I was trying to do whatever I could to win the basketball game. I was just trying to be aggressive. I missed a lot – a ton – of shots today.”