NEW YORK – While the once-hot New York Knicks figuratively limped into the All-Star break, an actual injury to their best player could force him out of Sunday’s All-Star Game.
Thanks in large part to getting hit on his shooting arm early in the Toronto Raptors’ 92-88 upset of New York (32-17) at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, right-handed star forward Carmelo Anthony was held to just 12 points (17 below his season average) on 5 of 24 shooting from the field.
And, although he felt good enough to pull down a game-high dozen rebounds, Anthony, who entered the game tied for the NBA scoring lead with Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, not only struggled from two-point range (going just 4 of 18), but he made only a single shot from both three-point distance (in six attempts) and the foul line (in four tries).
“It was probably the worst game Melo has had [this season],” said head coach Mike Woodson. “He hasn’t had too many games like that. He will bounce back.”
Before that however, comes the question of whether Anthony, with a couple of days to rest and recover, will join three of his teammates — fellow All-Star Tyson Chandler (10 points, nine rebounds), three-point shootout contestant Steve Novak (nine points) and seldom-used guard and dunk contest participant James “Flight” White — for the NBA’s upcoming all-star weekend in Houston.
“I am going to take it day by day and see how I feel,” Anthony said. “It is a deep contusion. I am not going to force it. As bad as I want to play and participate in the All-Star game, if I can’t go, I can’t go. There is nothing I can do about that.”
The NBA though, can provide some extra incentive for Anthony to reconsider that stance with a rule that requires players to skip their next regular season game if they are selected to play in, but miss the All-Star Game, even if their absence is due to an injury.
If he’s still hurt badly enough and plays in the game, NBA fans might not want to see the version of the limited Anthony that Knick fans witnessed against Toronto (21-32), which won for just the seventh time in 26 road games this season.
Although he insisted, “I will be fine,” Anthony, a six-time all-star, also admitted that he wasn’t up to being the same dangerous scorer he usually is.
“It was like a dead arm out there,” he said. “I tried to get through it and get some feeling back… it was early in the first quarter. Throughout the whole game it was bothering me.”
Depending on what Durant does in his final game before the break on Thursday night, Anthony’s poor outing will likely cost him a chance at becoming the first Knick since Bernard King, in 1985, to lead the league in scoring at the all-star break.
Anthony wasn’t the only star to have an off night at the Garden however, as a perfectly healthy Rudy Gay managed only 11 points on 4 of 21 shooting from the floor while missing all five of his three-point attempts.
Still, the last-place Raptors, who trail the first-place Knicks by 12½ games in the Atlantic Division, won for the fourth straight time, and are 5-2 since Gay was traded in a cost-saving move from Western Conference-contending Memphis on January 30th.
Gay’s slack was picked up by the hot shooting of Alan Anderson, who more than doubled his season average of 11.5 points per game with 26 points, just one shy of his career-high and as many Anderson scored in his previous four games combined.
New York’s continued problem of closing out on shooters was exploiting by Anderson, who drilled 10 of 16 field goal attempts and all but two of his eight three-pointers.
Anderson’s point total was matched by reserve guard J.R. Smith, who made half of his 10 threes, but two of those came in the final seconds with the game already out of reach.
Focusing on his team’s inability to stop Anderson, Smith said, “No matter how our offense does, we have to depend on our defense, and we didn’t do that tonight. Alan came off the bench with 26. Even when Carmelo is not scoring the ball, as a team, we have to play defense… [that] is all mental. It is whether you want to do it or not… we haven’t been the defensive team the way we started the season. We were aggressive, communicating and excited to play, and we haven’t done that in the last 12 games.”
Earlier, during a sluggish, low-scoring opening quarter in which the Knicks led 8-2 after five minutes, a Smith layup followed the same by Anthony, to give New York an 18-11 lead before an Anderson three-pointer got Toronto to within 18-14 as the first period ended.
As Smith scored the Knicks’ first four points of the second quarter, Gay finally got on track with his first six points and his first two assists to cap a 14-4 run that put the Raptors up, 25-22.
But, Novak came off the bench to make his first three shots from the floor, all threes, during a 16-2 surge that gave the New York a game-high 38-27 lead.
Despite the Knicks finishing just 35.4 percent (28-for-79) and missing nine free throws (in 32 attempts), Novak didn’t get much of a chance to build on his good start. He only played a total of 12 minutes and attempted only one more field goal the rest of the way.
Consecutive treys by Anderson though, keyed a 10-3 spurt that trimmed New York’s lead to just 41-37 before a free throw by point guard Raymond Felton (16 points, 10-12 free throws, five assists, four turnovers) in the last minute of the half had the Knicks up 42-37 at intermission.
Trailing by that margin when the third quarter began, Toronto led by the same amount when the period ended, after outscoring New York 28-18 behind nine points from Anderson and six more from guard DeMar DeRozan (20 points, 10-10 free throws) while the Knicks shot a horrid 4-for-21 in the frame.
Scoring the first four points of the fourth quarter, the Raptors built a 69-60 lead on the strength of a 14-5 run that began after starting point guard Kyle Lowry (12 points) argued a foul call, which led to his second technical foul and an automatic ejection.
Two dunks and a tip-in by Chandler, and a pair of three-pointers by Smith, led a 12-6 run to cut Toronto’s edge to 75-72, but two baskets by Anderson and a couple of DeRozan free throws fueled an 8-4 Raptor response to push Toronto’s lead to 83-76.
An Anthony three-pointer sliced a six-point lead in half, 83-80, as the Knicks’ usual sharpshooter grimaced in pain after making the shot.
With a chance to stay close though, Anthony missed a fast break layup with 2:40 left and then couldn’t get a follow tip-in attempt to fall, before Smith likewise blew a fast break layup with 1:20 remaining.
Those missed opportunities were typical of several very makeable missed shots around the basket for New York.
Guard John Lucas III (12 points filling after Lowry’s ejection) then made a pull-up jumper along the right blocks to push the Raptors’ lead to 86-80 with 54.8 seconds to go.
Two free throws by Gay, after a Felton turnover, extended Toronto’s edge to 90-82 with 24.3 seconds remaining, as the Knicks couldn’t get any closer than the final score on Smith’s second straight three-pointer with 1.7 seconds left.
Ending the pre-all-star game portion of their schedule with two home losses after sweeping a previous five-game home stand, some Knick players are welcoming a break that will have them off for a full week before playing next, on February 20th, at Central Division-leading Indiana, which trails New York by just 1½ games in the race for the two seed in the Eastern Conference.
“The break is coming at a good time,” said Chandler. “Mentally and physically, we need the break. As athletes, [our bodies] start gearing towards the break. It is always a tough grind at this point of the season. It is always good to get away and get mentally fresh.”
Smith added, “The break will be good for us. We will see what type of team we really want to be,” and Anthony said, “We need to refocus and regroup. We can come back after the break with a new mindset, leave this half of the season behind us, get ready, and make a run.”
Woodson, on other hand, wouldn’t mind getting the recent losing taste out of his mouth immediately. “I can’t wait to get back now,” he said. “I have to sit the next three, four days and think about these last two losses… We will have to get back on the floor and try to figure it out, to get back to playing the way we were playing earlier in the season.”
That was when Woodson guided the Knicks to a dominating 18-5 start that included New York winning its first 10 home games of the season.
Since then, the Knicks — winners of at least 30 games prior to the all-star break for the first time in 16 years — have been a mediocre 14-13 and just 9-8 at MSG, to which Woodson said, “Losing here at home disappoints me more than anything.”
Yet, what could decide New York’s season is what it might do after the break, away from home, where New York is a solid 13-10, and how the league’s oldest roster handles a demanding post-break schedule.
Of their 32 remaining regular season games, the Knicks will play 18 on the road, 19 against teams that currently have winning records, and they‘ll face nine sets of back-to-back contests.