Carmelo Anthony's Game 1 Performance Proves Knicks Are Contenders in East

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Carmelo Anthony's Game 1 Performance Proves Knicks Are Contenders in East
Elsa/Getty Images

Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks made a statement to the rest of the Eastern Conference on Saturday afternoon, knocking off the Boston Celtics to go up 1-0 in the best-of-seven series.

That statement—which has been CC'd to the Miami Heat—is simple. 

The Knicks are playoff contenders in the East. 

Maybe more specifically, as long as No. 7 is suiting up, the Knicks are playoff contenders in the East. 

USA TODAY Sports

Anthony took 29 shots and hit four three-pointers en route to his 36 points, giving the Knicks just enough juice to survive Jeff Green (26 points), Paul Pierce (21 points, seven assists) and the rest of the Celtics on Saturday afternoon by a score of 85-78. 

Chastised as a potential first-round knockout candidate, the Knicks are dealing with injuries and old age now more than ever before this season. Amar'e Stoudemire isn't expected to play in Round 1, Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin are both coming back from injuries and with Marcus Camby and Pablo Prigioni sidelined for Game 1, there were some that thought the Knicks couldn't hang tough enough with Boston to take a 1-0 lead. 

Wrong. 

Ironically, New York managed to flip the script on Boston by only allowing eight points in the fourth quarter and 25 for the entire second half. Boston struggled to hold on to the ball down the stretch and committed 20 turnovers on the evening to complete a sloppy game on offense—the 78 points tell you all you need to know. 

What's better—or maybe worse, depending on your perspective—Anthony's 36 points are 0.9 down from his scoring average in April. That's right—this was just an average night from Anthony in what's been a remarkable three-week stretch of basketball. 

Because of it, the Knicks are back in contention to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. 

Anthony didn't have a particularly great day shooting from the field on Saturday. 

Anthony Game 1 shot chart, courtesy Stats.NBA.com

Shooting percentage and shot selection clearly aren't part of Melo's normal game routine, but those parts of his game do come out when the team needs them the most. Anthony may be the league's leading scorer, but he also has a clutch gene that has been genetically enhanced over the past few weeks. 

Look no further than the final 2:31 to see that Anthony is everything to this Knicks team. 

Up just three, Melo had a hand in New York's final three scoring plays (Anthony layup, Anthony jump shot and Martin layup on Anthony assist) as the Knicks increased their lead and allowed late defense to take over in the Game 1 win. 

The assist was Melo's lone dime of the day. 

The road to contention has been rough for the Knicks all season. Dealing with injuries, veteran players and a chase of the Heat all season despite a 3-1 head-to-head record against the defending champs, Madison Square Garden faithful are eager to prove that this team is capable of making a deep playoff run for the first time since a conference finals loss to Indiana in 2000. 

While Saturday's game puts a jolt back into MSG supporters, let's now cloud the fact that the Knicks are back in the mix for popular contenders because of the defense or the late-game execution. 

Miami and Indiana are both eager for a chance to play the Knicks in a series. Who wouldn't be? The Knicks are a four-out, one-in, jump-shooting team that hasn't played good defense all season and relies on a 40-year-old (you heard that right, Jason Kidd dodgers) to lock down good players late in games. 

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Any conversation about the Knicks being contenders because of the defense are delusions of grandeur. This is a Mike Woodson team, and one built around fast-break, emotional basketball without any kind of organization on offense. 

The Knicks are contenders because of Carmelo Anthony. 

To steal a phrase used in many movie and television productions over the years, I don't know what it is, but he's got it. That's about as accurate as you can describe Melo's play right now, as he continues to dominate opponents despite avoiding passing the ball and by all accounts ruining any chance of New York winning an efficiency award for its offense. 

As reported by Howard Beck of the New York Times on Friday afternoon, Melo has a point to prove. Considered a team cancer and not a winner in Denver, he was traded away after only reaching the second round of the playoffs once in the Mile High city. 

The stage is bigger in New York, and his play has been, too. If it continues to escalate over the next month, the Knicks won't be playing when the June schedule is released. 

 

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