Carmelo Anthony is a man on a mission.
No, not just a mission to score, but to win—to do whatever it takes to win.
Sure, Tuesday night saw Anderson Varejao put up a monstrous 35 points and 18 rebounds for the Cleveland Cavaliers. It also saw Kobe Bryant nearly will the Los Angeles Lakers to victory once again. And yes, that was Jose Calderon who went off in the form of a triple-double for the Toronto Raptors.
But this night belonged to Anthony, who came up big when the Knicks needed him most.
Stat Line: 25 points, eight rebounds, two assists and one steal on 50 percent shooting.
Pretending that the Magic are the most talented of adversaries is futile. Not only is Orlando still reeling from Dwight Howard's departure, but three of their best players in Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Al Harrington are currently shelved.
Which means this one had the makings of a blowout. New York had won each of its first four games by 10 or more points and the Magic presented the easiest obstacle it had faced to date.
Or so the Knicks thought.
Orlando stayed within striking distance all game, even entering halftime with a four-point lead. New York regained the lead heading into the fourth quarter, but even then, the team appeared to lack the killer instinct that would put the game just out of reach.
In response to such circumstances, 'Melo took over down the stretch.
He and the rest of the Knicks buckled down defensively in the closing minutes, allowing just 13 points in the final period.
The biggest moment, however, came when Anthony drilled a three coming off a Tyson Chandler screen, which shifted the momentum in the Knicks favor for good.
No, it wasn't easy. New York posted a minus-11 on the glass and was outscored by six points in the paint.
Yet the team still found a way to win. J.R. Smith pitched in with 21 points on another efficient night off the bench, and Raymond Felton added 21 to the cause as well. But Anthony is the reason the Knicks were able to stay undefeated.
The Knicks' lone superstar played almost 43 minutes Tuesday night, well above the 35.3 he had been averaging coming in. Fatigue and overuse weren't factors for him, though. They couldn't be.
Who was the NBA's top performer Tuesday Night?
Contenders win the games they're supposed to, even if their performance isn't ideal. And to ensure New York won this game—a game it was supposed to—Anthony needed to be on the floor in the second half; he needed to not only score, but draw defenses in to ensure others could as well.
Which he did. He didn't allow the team to yield to what was a shoddy defensive performance for half the game. He didn't allow the team to fall into the trap of a road game against an inferior opponent.
He didn't allow the Knicks to lose.
After the game, New York coach Mike Woodson praised the 'Melo-led defense (via Dick Scanion of NBA.com).
"This is the fifth straight game we haven't allowed over 40 points in the second half," Woodson said. "That just tells me our defense is right where it needs to be."
But this game also made it clear that Anthony himself is right where he needs to be.
Because he was able to lead the Knicks to continued perfection on a night where they were far from perfect.