And Carmelo Anthony ensured it stayed that way.
On a night where Kobe Bryant dropped 25 points to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to their first ever Mike D'Antoni-led victory and Jrue Holiday came within two rebounds of a triple-double to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to victory, there was 'Melo.
Anthony set the tone for his team early—like really early—allowing the Knicks to take care of business against an Anthony Davis-less Hornets squad.
Stat Line: 29 points, six rebounds and four assists on 54.5 percent shooting
First impressions are everything, and Anthony made one hell of a first impression in New Orleans.
The small forward masquerading as a power forward dropped 19 points in the first quarter alone—more than the entire Hornets team. He scored just four points in the second quarter, but the message his determination was sending was clear: The Knicks were not going to lose.
Even though New York allowed an early 14-point lead to get away from them and turn into a deficit, there was no way that a young and inexperienced Hornets team was going to pull off the upset. Not with 'Melo on hand.
He came off the bench in the second quarter to help put a stop to New Orleans' premature heroics, willing New York to recapture the lead, which it did.
By the start of the third quarter, the Hornets were still down just three. But Anthony kept pushing. He added six more points to his bill, drawing in triple-teams that allowed him to hit an open cutter or shooter for an easy scoring opportunity.
The Knicks outscored the Hornets by 14 points in that period, extending their led to 17. And from there, 'Melo was done for the night.
Which says a lot about his efforts.
It wasn't just that he dropped 19 first-quarter points—five short of tying New York's franchise record—or posted more points than he played minutes. It's the way in which he did it.
Anthony jacked up 22 attempts from the field—slightly above his season average of 19.6—but couldn't be found forcing the action when openings weren't there.
Sure, he milked his hot hand in the first quarter, but who wouldn't? The quintessential showing of his evolution as a player and teammate, though, actually came in the midst that hot start.
With the shot clock winding down in the waning seconds of the first quarter, Anthony had the ball near the weak side corner. He dribbled from hand-to-hand for awhile before making his move. Just not the one anybody expected.
Instead of shooting the ball himself, he threw a cross-court pass to a wide-open Steve Novak, who drained a three as the shot clock expired. No way does the 'Melo of last season give up the ball after outscoring an entire team.
Here, however, he did. And he did so the rest of the way as well.
For obvious reasons, the path to the basket was not as open for Anthony the rest of the game. He found ways to score and put up a few questionable attempts, but mostly, he drew in the defense and created openings for others.
Such unselfishness ultimately allowed the Knicks to cruise to their eighth victory, even after the Hornets appeared poised to put up a fight.
Anthony put his team in a position to not just win, but emerge victorious without him. He was allowed to rest the entire fourth quarter. Staring down the latter half of a back-to-back against a Dallas Mavericks team looking for revenge, the break 'Melo and the rest of New York's starters received was huge.
Which was exactly what made Anthony's performance so special.
The Knicks could have taken the Hornets lightly. With Davis and Eric Gordon sidelined, who wouldn't? But Anthony understood Tuesday night was more than just about Tuesday night.
New York not only needed to avoid falling victim to an inferior opponent, but do so in a manner that did not expend all of its available energy heading into a huge game in Dallas Wednesday night. And it did.
No, late-game heroics weren't needed from Anthony in this one, but they weren't needed because of him. He didn't just set the tone in this one, he carried the same overwhelming tune through three quarters of dominant basketball.
"Every single night has to be our style of basketball," Tyson Chandler said (via Bradley Handwerger of NBA.com) following the Knicks win. "We've got to be willing to lose playing our style. Win or lose, we've got to ride the same way every single night."
Well, Anthony certainly played his new-and-improved style of basketball, but Tuesday night, he wasn't willing to lose.
So the Knicks won.
Stats in this article are accurate as of November 21st, 2012.
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