"I'm tired of losing."
New York Knicks superstar forward Carmelo Anthony said those words to the MSG sideline reporter at halftime of Friday night's game against the Charlotte Bobcats. Anthony's Knicks had lost their last five games in a row. With a 15-27 record, no 2014 draft picks and one of the league's highest payrolls, they were the laughingstock of the league.
Any basketball player can say he's tired of losing, but not every player has the ability to put a team on his shoulders like Anthony did on Friday night. By the time of his halftime statement, he had already scored 37 points; by the time he was finally taken out of the game in the fourth quarter, he had scored a franchise-record 62 points.
By the end of the game, the Knicks' 125-96 victory was almost an afterthought. But Melo didn't walk into Madison Square Garden Friday night to set records; he came to get the Knicks a much-needed win against a team currently above them in the Eastern Conference standings.
Melo provided a spark to his teammates, many of whom looked particularly grim during the five-game losing streak. The Knicks bench looked rejuvenated in the second half, and the players on (and off) the court were more than happy to let Melo go for history.
And for the beleaguered Knicks fans—both at MSG and watching at home—Melo's historic performance was like manna from heaven. The Garden faithful serenaded their star with chants of "Melllloooooo" and "M-V-P." Twitter exploded with each Melo bucket as thousands of Knicks fans joined in the online revelry:
YES. CHANT. CHANT YOU MAGNIFICENT BEASTS CHANT CHANT CHAAAAAAAAANT!— Jim Cavan (@JPCavan) January 25, 2014
I feel like crying— Seth Rosenthal (@seth_rosenthal) January 25, 2014
Everyone associated with the Knicks franchise needed a night like Friday night. They needed Melo to give them a reason to hope. And he came through.
All Hail the New King
In the MSG postgame interview, Melo acknowledged the pride he felt in passing one of his childhood heroes, Knicks legend Bernard King: "It didn't really sink in until the game is over. I know Bernard is somewhere, smiling, right now."
Since he came to New York, Melo has been compared to the Hall of Famer, King. Both players were born in Brooklyn, and both play a similar style of ball—silky-smooth, natural-born scorers.
King's 60 point performance—on Christmas Day, 1984, against the New Jersey Nets—was a sacred record among Knicks fans. Clips of that game can still be found on YouTube.
But not every fan remembers that King's Knicks actually lost that game, 120-114. Worse, his MSG scoring record was eclipsed by an opposing player, Kobe Bryant, in 2009. The Los Angeles Lakers legend torched New York for 61 points. The Knicks were still digging out of the wreckage of the Isiah Thomas era, and the Garden crowd could only salute Bryant for bringing some quality basketball to the World's Most Famous Arena.
But on Friday, Melo caught fire with 20 points in the first quarter and 17 in the second, capped by an amazing half-court buzzer-beater.
As Melo steamrolled toward the record, with 19 points in the third quarter, Knicks fans weren't as interested in seeing him pass King as they were in making sure he passed Bryant:
I want Melo to break Kobe's mark of 61 about as badly as I've ever wanted anything in my life— Robert Silverman (@BobSaietta) January 25, 2014
Wipe Kobe off the books at MSG— KG_NYK (@KG_NYK) January 25, 2014
Melo stayed in through the entire third period and came out at the start of the fourth. He was clearly exhausted, but his teammates insisted on getting him that record.
Per The Associated Press' Kenny Ducey:
Woodson: "I was calling for Iman and he wouldn't even go in. He wanted Melo to get the record."— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) January 25, 2014
Melo scored the final bucket on a leaner that bounced tantalizingly around the rim before dropping in. The Garden exploded in cheers; at last, the scoring record belonged to one of its own.
No Assists? No Problem
Carmelo Anthony did more than just score on Friday night; he also grabbed a team-high 13 rebounds. According to The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring, Melo's double-double was a feat matched by only the greats of the last 24 years:
If he reaches 60, Anthony would become 6th player since 1990 to reach the 60-point, 10-rebound mark. McGrady, Robinson, Shaq, Malone & MJ.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) January 25, 2014
But not everyone was satisfied—these are the Knicks, after all.
Critics couldn't help but notice that Melo failed to notch an assist on the evening. Royce Young of Daily Thunder disparagingly compared Melo's stat line to Kevin Durant's previous season-high 54-point performance:
Not to take anything away from Melo's performance because OMG, but KD had six assists in his game. Melo has zero so far.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) January 25, 2014
But Knicks fans were not having it. Per SB Nation's Charles Osborn:
I prefer that Carmelo Anthony didn't record an assist. It's the perfect metaphor for his complete lack of help this year.— Charlie Osborn (@charlestosborn) January 25, 2014
As strange as it sounds, Melo did not score a selfish 62. When the Bobcats brought double-teams, Melo patiently passed the ball out; his teammates simply swung the ball around and passed it back to him. His 62 points came with an incredibly efficient shooting line: 23-of-35 from the field, 6-of-11 from three, 10-of-10 from the free-throw line.
Most importantly, Melo did not commit a single turnover. How many other players in league history have scored 60 or more points without turning the ball over? None.
He played with a singular focus from the opening tip. He had the look of a man who would not be denied. And the Bobcats could only stand by and watch. Charlotte came into this game with the seventh-best defensive efficiency rating in the league, according to Basketball-Reference. It had one of the premier, up-and-coming wing defenders in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. And Melo burned the Garden down anyway.
After the game, Bobcats center Al Jefferson waxed philosophical on what exactly happened to his team's defense on Friday, per Sports Illustrated's Brian Mahoney:
What happened to the Bobcats' defense tonight? "Melo. Enough said," said Al Jefferson.— Brian Mahoney (@briancmahoney) January 25, 2014
Do yourself a favor: don't try to take this performance away from Knicks fans. They have suffered enough. They deserved a night like Friday night from their hero. Carmelo Anthony has been the only Knick worth watching this season. It's only fitting that he should deliver the season's most memorable performance.