Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Memorable Melo

During the 2002-03 college basketball season, I had the distinct pleasure of covering Syracuse's basketball team, the eventual National Champion. That allowed me an up close and personal look at Carmelo Anthony and his ability to take over a game. I remember sitting in the Carrier Dome or on the road in East Lansing or in New Orleans for the Final Four, and as the game would tighten down the stretch, you knew that Carmelo would come to save the day. I remember realizing that Melo was the definition of "we need a bucket, give it to this guy and he'll make it happen."

While I'm not a Knicks fan (my team is the 76ers, and now I have an adopted step-son team in the Bulls), I'm a fan of Carmelo, and a fan of the NBA being relevant in New York City. So as I watched last night's Game 2 against the Celtics, I found myself rooting for Carmelo as if he was wearing a different orange and blue jersey. I was annoyed at how Melo got ripped after his lousy Game 1 performance and people all of the sudden were questioning his place amongst the top players in the league. We'll call it Overreactionitis that is a part of today's sports world. Whatever just happened, we need to blow it out of proportion and throw out any other evidence we might have to make a claim. Need another example? A few weeks ago, people ripped Butler for their poor shooting night in the Championship game, discounting the run they made to that game. Sure, for the second straight year, Butler knocked off powerhouse after powerhouse to get to the Final 4, but since they are a mid-major, its obvious they weren't prepared to perform on the big stage. We all know that shooting performance could have happened to any team. Enough about that.
Carmelo couldn't quite close out the Celtics (

Anyway, everyone was calling for Carmelo to respond in Game 2. He had to show that the Knicks made the right decision trading half their team for him just two months ago. Throw out the fact that the Knicks were playing at the defending conference champions, throw out the fact that the Knicks team consists of Anthony, Amare and Billups. Melo had one off night, so it was the end of the world....for a day or two.

I don't know if Carmelo was trying to prove a point last night, but what he did was something special. With Billups doing his best Andy Rautins impression, rocking a suit on the bench, and Amare leaving the game midway through the 2nd quarter, the Knicks team looked like a mid-major college team, or an undermanned high school team. And that's what it felt like when I was watching, rooting for Melo and the Reserves to take down the Celtics in their building. I've been in my fair share of games as a coach or as a player, where we've been overmatched from a talent standpoint. But we fought, battled, scrapped, and had someone that was unconscious from the floor, keeping us in the game. The team started to depend on the senior at the end of the bench, who never played but was a good teammate, also known as Roger Mason Jr. The coach started to tinker with the lineup and was making the undersized, skinny kid play the center position because you were short on bodies (that was me!), also known as Jared Jeffries. Your backup point guard who was great to give the starter a rest during the season, and would play extended minutes on occasion, was now in the starting lineup and running the show. Yes, that would be Toney Douglas.

And then there was the superstar. The guy that was doing it all. Taking, and making, tough shots (Melo had 42 points on 14-30 shooting, 10-11 from the line). Putting the team on his back, doing everything he needed to do to try and steal a W (Melo had 17 rebounds and 6 assists, led the team in both). Then there were the shots that you can't give justice to in print. You know, when Melo catches on the wing, has a defender draped all over him. He goes into that series of jab steps, rip-throughs and head fakes before catching his opponent off guard and pulling up to drain a jumper with a hand in the face. I compare Melo on the wing to a scary movie (It's dark, the music is playing, you know something is going to jump out at you, you just don't know when). He's got the ball, you know he's going to shoot it, but you don't know when.....and then in a split second he rises and fires (Gus). Well what Carmelo was doing last night was a nightmare for Celtics coaches, players and fans. Luckily, the Celtics have four All-Stars on their team, and one of them (KG) was able to step up in the final 15 seconds to hit the game-winning shot on one end, and forcing a turnover on the other.

Carmelo's heroic 42, 17 and 6 didn't have the happy ending that Hollywood (or at least ESPN Classic) was looking for, but it was still quite impressive. The Knicks haven't won a playoff game since April of 2001. They'll play their first home playoff game since 2004 on Friday night. New York and MSG will have an amazing buzz in 2 days. While the Knicks might be down 0-2, they've proved they can play with the Celtics, no matter who is out on the court.

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