With the possible exceptions of Jeff Green’s continued onslaught in Boston and the Bulls winning a huge game in Brooklyn last night with half their team missing — literally, it seemed, as they only played six guys for the great majority of the game — nothing in basketball this week has been arresting as the scoring of Carmelo Anthony. 90 points over two games is monumental regardless of context or circumstance, but the fact that it came in two huge wins against Eastern Conference foes to boost their late-season surge to a double-digit streak — while also doubling as one of the gosh-darned prettiest shooting displays you’ll ever see on a basketball court — makes it easily one of the most memorable single-player runs of the entire regular season, and of Carmelo Anthony’s eventful 10-year hoops career.
There are other people far more qualified than me to break down how Carmelo did it, what he was doing right and what the defense was doing wrong, whether his scoring outburst is a good or bad thing for the Knicks in the long term, and so on. But I did want to take a moment to shout out one specifically pleasing aspect of Melo’s two-game dominance: the brilliant way he secured his 90 combined points with an even 50 and 40, respectively.
I like numbers. Most sports fans do, I reckon, but I don’t want to just assume that everyone is as infatuated with watching players work their way to essentially meaningless statistical plateaus as I am, nor that they feel as satisfied when the players actually get there. But this is one of the things I’ve always loved about Kobe Bryant — the way he starts hoisting threes when he’s got 37 in a game with 90 seconds to go, or starts forcing passes in situations he’d normally shoot when he’s one assist away for a triple-double. He gets it. Call it selfish, call it OCD, call it pointless and stupid. I call it box score artistry, and you’ll never be able to tell me that 40 doesn’t look nicer at the end of a stat line than 39.
And now I know: Carmelo Anthony gets it too.
Anthony’s 50 points on Monday against the Heat was an absolute thing of beauty, in the flow of the team’s offense and always on time. Few shots were forced, and the two assists Melo ended up with belies what a good job he did passing out of double teams, though his teammates failed to do their part to cash them in. Really, the only downright lousy shot he took was his last. With the game already decided and Melo’s point total at 48 with less than a half-minute to go, he got the ball with only about five seconds to go and did this:
This wasn’t in the flow of the offense. This wasn’t a catch-and-shoot beyond the arc, or a one-dribble-and-up step-back over a defender on the wing. It was an awkward, on the move pull-up jumper from the top of the arc (maybe the one location in the halfcourt not considerable as a Carmelo Anthony sweet spot) with acclaimed Heat wing defender Shane Battier doing the hand-in-his-face thing. But it was the last chance Melo would get to hit the half-century mark, and he knew it, so he went for it. And with the game already well in hand (largely by his own doing), no one could fault him for doing so. Lo and behold, like 17 of the 25 other shots Melo took that night, it went in, and an exact 50 was achieved, much to my personal satisfaction.
The very next game, Melo finds himself in a similar situation. His brilliant shooting against the Hawks on Wednesday — again, unselfish and fluid, just a case of a great scorer hitting the shots that he can hit — left him with 38 points on 16-26 shooting, and again the Knicks pulled away late to put the game out of reach in the final minute. With a half-minute to go, the Knicks up 11 and Carmelo having gone quiet for most of the fourth quarter as J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton took over, I figured 38 would be the end of it for Melo. Then Jason Kidd in-bounded to Melo from the sideline with four seconds on the shot clock, and this happened:
Again, a rushed shot — though none of Melo’s shots are particularly languid — with a defender’s hand in his face, and one you’d just sort of expect to clang off one or all parts of the rim and trickle out. But it was his last shot at 40, and Anthony’s laser focus and delivery saw him through, as the shot swished to round his score to the nearest 10. 50 and 40, 90 in two nights. It just sounds so much better than 48 and 38 and 86, doesn’t it? Only four points, but it feels like the difference between watching two straight good nights shooting and watching something downright historic.
Thanks, Melo. Your last second, forced jumper heroics have done all us dumb, selfish, OCD Box Score Art connoisseurs proud. If you wanna go for an even 30 tonight (or 60, if that’s easier) against the Bucks just to keep things consistent and quasi-poetic, we won’t be mad at you.