The embattled forward finished with 39 points and seven rebounds in the Knicks' 106-99 defeat, but was continually unable to come up down the stretch. Facing a Pacers defense that increasingly shaded their help in his direction, Anthony shot 2-of-7 from the field and turned the ball over three times as Indiana broke open a game that was deadlocked through three quarters.
The final 12 minutes were an amalgam of everything fans deride about Anthony. He consistently tried making plays where they weren't, attempting difficult passes out of pick-and-rolls and taking impossible shots with defenders—mostly Paul George—draped all over him. New York imploded as a result, the final few seconds draining down as disgusted faces adorned the Bankers Life Fieldhouse floor.
The loss sends the second-seeded Knicks packing and the third-seeded Pacers on to take on the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
For a different team, a different city, this loss might be a time to reflect. To look back on how this team won 54 games in the regular season—its most since 1996-97—and how this 'Melo-led bunch gave the Knicks their first postseason series victory since 2000.
The Knicks aren't most NBA franchises, and New York City isn't one to reflect positively on a second-round playoff exit. Instead, the focus will immediately shift to what went wrong—and that conversation will likely start with some jumping to denunciate this team's controversial star. ESPN personality and notable contrarian Skip Bayless was one of the first—but certainly not the last—to say 'Melo's legacy will be hurt by this loss:
As much as I love Melo, his legacy will take a hit with that fourth quarter. HE took the ball out of the hands of three hotter shooters.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 19, 2013
All it takes is a quick Twitter search of Anthony's name to find plenty more where that came from. Even after nearly hitting the 40 mark and being sensational for the game's first 36 minutes, folks are jumping at the opportunity to throw Anthony under the subway.
Why? Because blaming 'Melo is easy. Blaming 'Melo sells newspapers, gets clicks on a website and garners television ratings.
Blaming 'Melo is also ridiculously lazy—especially considering how many people involved with this team underperformed versus Indiana.
Let's start with Knicks coach Mike Woodson, who was pretty much played like a speed bag by Frank Vogel this entire series.
Throughout the series, Woodson failed time and again to find a set rotation—a playoff coaching 101. There was the miserable decision to start a Kenyon Martin-Tyson Chandler front line to counteract David West and Roy Hibbert in Game 4, a move that went against everything these Knicks did well this year. The lineup cratered as expected and was quickly abandoned.
Game 4 was also known as the game that Pablo Prigioni played just four minutes. As anyone who watched this series and the entire postseason knows, the Knicks became a completely different team with Prigs playing extensive minutes. They scored a full 16 points per 100 possessions more with the Argentine guard on the floor than they were with him on the bench heading into Saturday night, per NBA.com.
And keep in mind that while he played just 11 minutes in Games 5 and 6, Jason Kidd had to nearly decompose in front of Woodson for the loyal coach to sit him. The 40-year-old future Hall of Famer went scoreless for New York's final 10 postseason games, all while averaging about 20 minutes a night.
Remember those glowing per-100 possessions stats we used to discuss Prigioni? The opposite is true for Kidd. The Knicks scored 89.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor this season, a rate that would have been far and away an NBA worst during the regular season, per NBA.com.
That's all without mentioning Woodson's inane refusal to play Chris Copeland until it was panic time. Copeland is a defensive minus, but his ability to play both forward positions stretches out defenses and gave a Knicks team desperately searching for points a spot-up option from beyond the arc.
Don't get me wrong, Woodson did make some nice adjustments from Round 1 to Round 2. The iso-ball vortex that everyone complained about versus Boston was gone, replaced with some very nice ball movement before pick-and-roll sets.
But this series was a bad look for Woodson, who was very good during the regular season.
Speaking of those who performed well in the 82-game slog before falling off a cliff during the postseason, let's discuss J.R. Smith. And let's do so quickly because that's all his performance merits.
If 'Melo was bad in this series, Smith was an abomination. The NBA's Sixth Man of the Year shot a laughably bad 28.9 percent from the field in this series while taking 15 shots per game. Smith's struggles date back to his one-game suspension for elbowing Jason Terry in the face against the Celtics, and you could literally feel the life being choked out of the Knicks offense when he was on the floor.
Finally, let's just credit the Pacers. Indiana was the league's best defense throughout the regular season—arguably one of the best ever—and did more of the same against the Knicks. Paul George was suction-cupped to Anthony this entire series, fighting through a constant barrage of pick-and-rolls and off-ball screens. If George hadn't already made an All-Star team, I'd be pounding on the desk for that to happen already. He's a borderline superstar.
And while Roy Hibbert is already known as one of the league's best interior defenders, he again proved so in this series. His block on 'Melo Saturday night was arguably the turning point in the entire contest.
These Pacers are for real and may give the defending champs real trouble next round.
In essence, this series was a perfect storm. The Pacers, with athletes all over the perimeter and two strong big men inside, were the elixir to New York's regular-season potion.
Did Anthony have the best series of his career? Of course not. He took bad, contested shots over great defenders. But that's 'Melo. That's who he's been his entire career, and the Knicks have hitched their wagon to him going forward. You can't cherry-pick bad performances as being selfish and then laud him when the shots go in.
It's fair to say Anthony could have taken fewer shots and looked to get his teammates into the action more. But blaming him for the entire elimination is lazy, shortsighted and frankly wrong.
Let's be better than that in the coming days as Knicks fever hits its apex.