Alone on a podium late Thursday night, wrapped himself in comfortable catchphrases and verbal deflections. The Miami Heat had not shut him down. He was simply “missing shots that I normally make.”
The , down three games to none in the playoffs, were not defeated. “Our confidence is high.”
Anthony’s tone was unwavering, his faith absolute. This is how elite talent speaks, with a self-belief that borders on the absurd and occasionally veers into self-delusion.
The Knicks, who have been outscored by 60 points in the series, are not going to be the first N.B.A. team (out of 100) to overcome a 3-0 deficit. Anthony, who is shooting .344 and has twice as many turnovers (12) as assists (6), is not going to lead them back.
The Knicks will soon exit the postseason, their 12th straight year without winning a series. Their 13-game losing streak is the longest in playoff history.
“I wasn’t here for them losses,” Anthony bristled this week, though he has now been here for seven.
His dismissiveness misses the larger point: the Knicks traded a bounty for Anthony — four starters and three draft picks — to end their decade-long drought, to make May and June matter again at Madison Square Garden. Anthony demanded a trade on the premise that he, along with Amar’e Stoudemire, would turn the Knicks into a reasonable facsimile of the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade Heat.
So far, the Anthony-Stoudemire Knicks have accomplished no more than the Stephon Marbury-Tim Thomas Knicks (swept in 2004).
They have had their misfortune — injuries to Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups in 2011, injuries to Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert in 2012 — but great teams find a way to win. And when they fail, the great players absorb, reflect and rededicate themselves.
Anthony is not the reflective type. He has rarely taken responsibility for his team’s failures, preferring to shift blame toward injuries, coaches or the playbook. But the N.B.A. is a star-driven league, and Anthony — a star by reputation, if not achievement — must eventually confront his own résumé.
In nine postseasons, Anthony is 16-36 — the worst record among active players with at least 50 playoff games. He has won a first-round series only once, in 2009. Since then, he has lost 11 of 13 playoff games. If the Knicks lose Sunday, it will be Anthony’s third time getting swept in five years.
Anthony shot .375 against the Boston Celtics in last year’s sweep. He is shooting miserably against Miami, but he is still taking 30 percent of his team’s field-goal attempts while the offense stagnates and the Heat loads up its defense.
Playing Meloball — in which Anthony dominates the offense, usually in ball-pounding isolation sets — got the Knicks through a critical late-season period, without Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin, with a 9-4 record. Anthony was brilliant in that stretch, shooting high percentages and collecting 30-point games while the defense did the rest.
But we are now seeing the limitations of Meloball. It can win 45 to 50 games (as it did in Denver), but it cannot beat a team as talented and disciplined as the Heat.
Stoudemire hardly saw the ball in the first two games of this series. The Knicks’ 3-point shooters are not getting open looks, because the ball is not moving.
Anthony is a great scorer. He is not yet a great player, because he does not consistently elevate his teammates. He averaged a modest 3.6 assists per game this season, and has a career average of 3.1.
By contrast, consider his close friends from the 2003 draft class: Wade has averaged 6.2 assists per game for his career, and James 6.9. Both Miami stars can control a game through their playmaking alone. The same goes for Kobe Bryant (4.7 career average), when the mood strikes.
In Cleveland, James led his teams deep into the playoffs (including the 2007 finals) despite a lackluster lineup, proving that a selfless star is infinitely more valuable than a single-minded gunner.
Kurt Rambis — a former teammate of Magic Johnson and a former coach of Bryant — put it best in an ESPN podcast, saying of Anthony: “One of the things he has to learn is how to involve his teammates more. There’s a lot more to winning ballgames than just scoring points.”
George Karl and Mike D’Antoni tried in vain to sell Anthony on this virtue, costing Karl years of aggravation and D’Antoni his job.
Initially, D’Antoni asked Anthony to play point forward, giving him the ball control he desired, but with equal responsibility for scoring and playmaking. Anthony accepted the role grudgingly and played it poorly.
Once Lin emerged, the Knicks’ playmaking needs were resolved. But Anthony was uncomfortable in a point guard-dominated offense and admitted as much a week before D’Antoni resigned.
So far, the only offense that seems to please Anthony is one where everyone else passes and he shoots.
“Melo is going to have to raise his game,” Coach Mike Woodson said Friday, suggesting that Anthony needs some growth to escape his personal playoff rut. “He’s got to change that.”
Woodson, an interim coach with no leverage, has necessarily catered to Anthony’s desires. With a little job security, he might not be so forgiving. Phil Jackson, if he were enticed by the Garden’s riches, would certainly demand a more team-oriented game.
Anthony will be 28 this month — old enough to be considered a veteran, young enough to learn. The Knicks will never be an elite team until he matures. And he will never truly be a star until he evolves.