With a 14-point lead going into halftime, the Knicks seemed to be in cruise control. That was until the Miami Heat willed their way back into the game. The Knicks were 24 minutes away from sealing the deal but they just couldn't close, and a frustrating J.R. Smith turnover late in the fourth made their collapse all the more frustrating.
The gut-wrenching image of Carmelo Anthony's head slumped forward in disbelief after LeBron James intercepted Smith's pass and went full speed in the other direction uncontested will linger in the minds of Knicks fans for the next few days.
Don't think Carmelo will forget that moment either.
After a fantastic offensive performance of 32 points while going 13-of-14 from the stripe, it still wasn't enough to get the win, and there's no question he has every right to demand more of his teammates.
Melo needs to trust that when he does pass the ball to his teammates they'll score, and he also needs to trust that they'll deliver him the ball when it matters most. Melo only attempted four shots in the fourth, and it was more a matter of his team's decision making rather than him being afraid to shoot.
Granted, Raymond Felton had easy looks that he couldn't pass up, but at other times it was either terrible errors in getting Melo the ball or it was teammates simply looking for their own shot. When they did make an attempt to get him the ball, however, sometimes it proved costly.
Among the 17 Knicks' turnovers, Smith's attempt to get Anthony the ball is perhaps the best example of poor decision making on New York's part. It was a lazy pass that everyone in the MSG could've seen coming, and it's the kind of error that made Melo's afternoon all the more frustrating.
The Heat did whatever they could to keep Melo from getting an easy catch, and if he did it was far from the basket. With the opposing defense making things difficult enough for Melo, he doesn't need teammates compounding his frustrations.
Teammates need to recognize that the waning minutes are Melo time, and although the offense won't necessarily be as diverse per se, it will be more reliable if their best scorer is getting opportunities. That means if they do try to get him the ball, the lobs need to be better, and if they're attempting shots, they need to be virtually guaranteed buckets or incredible open looks.
There is nothing wrong with teammates taking shots when they have them, but when Smith is attempting almost as many field goals (shot 5-of-18 with 13 points) with less than half the output, it's a sure sign he's overshooting. J.R. Smith overshooting? Shocking. Although Smith's game is entirely love-it-or-hate-it depending on the specific contest, this game will certainly strain the trust a bit for the time being between him and Melo.
Sometimes watching the Knicks is frustrating for that aspect alone. Whether it's a lack of trust in his leadership abilities or a lack of trust in his teammates at times, Melo needs to be more assertive. He is far too talented and far too skilled offensively to ball watch in crunch time.
This is a team that demands more out of their shooters as well. As important as the three point shot is for them, there is no way they can afford 8-of-29 type games from behind the arc going forward. The three-point shot is the great equalizer, and if Melo can get better shooting out of his squad mates, it will mean that the floor will open up for the collective offense.
It's also important to not overreact. Being a victim of the moment is never good, but this game has certainly shown some of the Knicks' key flaws yet again—stagnancy, defensive lapses and an overall lack of chemistry at times.
Whether the early-season success was all just a fluke or they're just going through an odd funk lately, it's definitely obvious that Melo needs people to step up, and perhaps no one more than Smith.
Other than Smith or Amar'e Stoudemire, there isn't really anyone else on this squad other than Melo that can take over a game offensively. They key thing about Smith is the fact that he essentially has a green light most of the time, so if he's not making shots, he's eating up a lot of possessions that could be spent more efficiently.
Smith and Stoudemire can create shots, and while the former's looks aren't always good ones, they have still proven they're legitimate scoring threats in this league. Melo needs some people to shoulder the load offensively, and just like we touched on before, it's more than just scoring, it's decision making as well.
The Knicks play a game that cannot survive when they commit a lot of turnovers. Other than Iman Shumpert or Tyson Chandler, they just don't have guys that can immediately trigger breaks or easy scoring opportunities off opponents' mistakes. They have to play calculated basketball, and they have to play a game that involves knocking down jumpers when they have them.
Melo is who he is at this stage in his career—an incredibly talented scorer, but fairly one dimensional as far as how he impacts the game. He is almost purely an offensive player, and that means he has to rely on his teammates to do their jobs consistently if they're to have a chance as a team.
This is a team of above-average role players surrounding an offensive superstar, and if they don't do their jobs, they will crumble—as evidenced by their recent game. He needs more scoring, better decision making and, ultimately, he needs to know he can trust his teammates.
In this league, no matter how great you are individually, you win or lose as a group.
It remains to be seen what fate has in store for the Knicks and Melo when they finally arrive in the postseason, but however it plays out, Anthony will want to take comfort in knowing his team has his back as much as he has theirs.