This past Sunday and Monday provided a strong testament and reminder to the value of Carmelo Anthony as a scorer and the true strength of the Knicks offense. Sunday’s game against the Miami Heat showed both Anthony’s potential when he is playing at his best and how he performs when checked by an elite defender. Monday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers showed what the Knicks are capable of in his absence. All three of these scenarios are extremely relevant when it comes to judging how far the Knicks could go in the playoffs.
In the first half of Sunday’s 99-93 loss to the Miami Heat, Anthony was bringing his “A” game. He scored 17 of the Knicks 22 first quarter points and finished the half with a game-high 24 points. The Knicks led 59-45. Anthony was being guarded by Shane Battier and took advantage. He was knocking down shots and getting to the hoop for some high-percentage opportunities. When Anthony gets rolling the Knicks offense is a force to be reckoned with. Defenses focus on him giving other players opportunities and if their three-point shooting is on it is extremely challenging for defenses to find an answer.
In the second half, the Knicks offense was not able to perform at that same level with the main factor being the Heat putting LeBron James on Anthony. It set a chain reaction for other Heat defenders to feel confident in the limitations on Anthony’s offensive flow allowing them to focus more on their own marks. Anthony scored only 8 points in the second half going 3-11 from the field.
Monday’s 102-97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers showed what the Knicks are capable of without Anthony. Anthony left the game with a knee injury in the second quarter and did not return. Although the Knicks were able to make an impressive comeback after being down by 12 at the half with their largest deficit being 22, their offensive flow looked far from smooth. The Knicks’ first instinct in Anthony’s absence was to get the ball in the hands of their second best scorer, J.R. Smith. Smith wasted a great deal of the shot clock on numerous possessions and went 6-17 from the field and 1-7 from three. The Knicks did win the game but overall it was a performance a team contending for a championship should not be putting on display.
What both of these games reinforced in the minds of Knicks fans is that a playoff run and their season is going to live and die by the success of Carmelo Anthony on the offensive end. Not only is Anthony the best scorer they have, he is one of the best pure scorers in the league. Anthony playing in his best form, being guarded by an elite defender and missing time due to injury are all possible scenarios that will be the biggest factor in the Knicks success for a run deep into the playoffs. If Anthony can stay healthy and the Knicks can figure out a way to help him thrive consistently they may be able to take some big teams down in a seven-game series.