NEW YORK — Inspired by one of his longtime idols, Carmelo Anthony broke a three-decade-old record of another, while scoring the most points an NBA player has ever had at the world’s most famous arena.
After watching a pre-game video featuring clips of his New York Knicks (16-27), with the voice of boxing great Muhammad Ali in the background, a very serious an completely locked-in Anthony delivered an early knockout punch to the Charlotte Bobcats (19-26) with 37-first half points.
Then, he made history — in four different ways — during the Knicks’ 125-96 win at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.
First, there was Anthony becoming the only NBA player to score at least 60 points while grabbing 13 rebounds and making six 3-pointers in a game.
Next, was Anthony’s drive along the right baseline that made the league’s reigning scoring champion live in Knicks and Garden lore forever.
He finished the play with a leaning, nine-foot bank shot that hit glass, then the front of the rim, and finally the back of the iron before dropping through the net with 7:23 remaining. The historic bucket simultaneously broke Bernard King’s franchise record of 60 points (set in 1984) and the building record of 61 points posted by Kobe Bryant in 2009, while giving Anthony the NBA mark for most points in a game without committing a turnover (since individual turnovers have been tracked, starting in 1977-78).
Reserve guard J.R. Smith committed a foul five seconds later so head coach Mike Woodson could call a time out and pull Anthony from a the game.
Named as an NBA All-Star for a seventh time and an All-Star starter for a sixth straight time (the third as a Knick) a day earlier, Anthony finished his performance for the ages with 62 points on sizzling 23-of-35 (65.7 percent) shooting, including 6-of-11 from 3-point range. He also made all 10 of his free throw attempts, three of which came after Charlotte technical fouls.
Remarkably, Anthony left the game with only 10 fewer points than the Bobcats, who trailed, 109-72, at the time.
As the Garden crowd gave Anthony a well-deserved ovation, injured forward Amar’e Stoudemire jokingly waved a towel at Anthony as if to cool him down after the hottest shooting display that many had ever witnessed.
Getting a big hug from center Tyson Chandler (two points, six rebounds) before and after receiving high-fives from all of his teammates, Anthony finally smiled for the first time all game.
“That was special tonight,” Chandler said. “He put on one of the great performances of our generation and the best performance the Garden has seen. I’m just glad now that a Knick player holds the [Garden] record.”
Even Anthony, who also set the Team USA scoring record with 37 points on just 16 shots, in the 2012 Summer Olympics, didn’t expect to put on the show he did.
“I didn’t come into tonight’s game thinking I was going to score 62 points,” he said. “I came in with a focus of winning a basketball game. That was my only focus tonight… I just wanted to… let my teammates know that I don’t like accepting losing. I’ll do whatever I can to help us win.”
Reflecting on his monumental achievement further, Anthony said, “I made history tonight with the performance… there’s only a small group of people that know what that zone feels like and tonight I was one of them.”
Yet the night still didn’t feel real to him.
“It really didn’t sink in yet… it still feels surreal for me,” he said after the game. “It came within the realm of the game, the flow of the game… coming into today’s game, for some reason, I just had a different type of focus. Guys were asking me what was wrong before the game. It wasn’t really nothin’ wrong, it’s just for some reason, I was just locked in from the beginning of the game, before the game… it was just a mindset tonight.”
That mentality wasn’t just “for some (unknown) reason,” though, as Anthony implied. He also described what watching Ali did for he and his team.
“They played a video before the game… just like an inspirational video,” said Anthony, who started using boxing to keep in shape during downtimes last season, after his wife Lala introduced him to Ehinomen “Hollywood Hino” Ehikhamenon, a former pro boxer and celebrity trainer from Nigeria.
“From that point, everyone was [focused]. My energy level went up, my focus level went up times 10… everybody knows how big of a fan I am of Ali, having tattoos all over my body of Ali, so they said I had an Ali mindset tonight,” Anthony said. “It was special for them to say that. That was a special moment.“
Continuing, Anthony added, “[During the] shootaround, it felt everything was just clicking, from all aspects, from walking through the plays, just everything felt good… and then coming in here before the game, hearing that speech, hearing the words of Muhammad… just the focus that I had, the mindset I had, I felt it was going to be a good night. Did I know it was going to be a 62-point night? No, but I felt like it was going to be a good night.”
Moments earlier, Smith, a former teammate of Anthony’s in Denver, before the two were reunited in New York, said, “I always knew Muhammad Ali was (Anthony’s) favorite athlete. Just hearing his words… I knew that it had a big effect on him… it was Woody’s idea (to show the video to the team). It was pretty much clips of us, but Ali’s words in the background.”
While praising Anthony’s play, Smith inferred that he expected a big game from the Knicks’ franchise player after the team watched the video.
“From the time we stepped on the court, his whole demeanor was different,” he said. “Normally, he’s smiling and joking and stuff like that, but [tonight], he was serious. There’s very few times I’ve seen him have that look, and every time he did, he just went off… I’ve seen him score a lot of points, but that was some performance right there.”
Somewhat lost in all of the history-making was the fact that New York got a much-needed victory, its first during a season-long, eight-game homestand, which reached its halfway point with the Knicks snapping a five-game losing streak and moving to within two games of Charlotte for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Smith scored 14 points, point guard Raymond Felton had 11 and reserve guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. added 10 points for New York.
But from the outset, the night belonged to Anthony, who as the only Knick to attempt double-digit shots, singlehandedly matched the four Bobcats — Al Jefferson (25 points), Chris Douglas-Roberts (14), Ramon Sessions (12) and Janero Pargo (11) — who scored in double figures.
Charlotte assistant coach Patrick Ewing, a Hall of Famer who in 1996, was named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all-time, said of the impossible task of trying to defend Anthony, “Everything that he shot looked like it was going to go in. He had a great game… “We tried to get the ball out of his hands. We tried to double him at some point, hit him. He was hot.”
Not from the right wing though — where Anthony showed he was human by missing nine of 10 shots — and not in the fourth quarter (1-for-5), or over his last nine shots (he missed six).
But earlier, Anthony — who made his first 10 2-point shots — was simply unstoppable, while making 20 of his first 26 shots, and 22 of 25 overall, discounting his poor shooting from the right wing spot.
The Bobcats initially put second-year forward and New Jersey product Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, one of the league’s best young defenders, on Anthony. But when that failed miserably, Charlote began to double team him with multiple defenders in the final period.
Anthony made six of his first seven shots and finished the quarter with 20 points (a season team-high for a quarter) on 8-of-10 shooting to give the Knicks a 30-21 lead after scoring 16 of New York’s first 24 points.
He added 17 more points while connecting on seven of 11 second-quarter shots, but none thrilled the sellout crowd more than when he capped a 20-8 Knicks run by grabbing a defensive rebound with 3.6 seconds left, before dribbling down the middle of the court, stepping off of the midcourt line with his left foot, and swishing a 47-footer at the buzzer, to finish the first half with 37 points (the most in a half in the NBA this year), while extending New York’s lead to 67-46.
“When I made the shot at half, I told myself the zone was there,” Anthony said. “Only a couple people know what that zone feels like.”
Anthony’s previous basket, a face-up jumper over 6-foot-10 forward Josh McRoberts, already gave him 34 points on the same 14-of-20 shooting that Jefferson had when he scored 35 points to lead Charlotte to a 10-point win over New York 10 days earlier.
Prior to that, Pargo had made three straight 3-pointers to get the Bobcats to within 38-34, about five minutes after Anthony showed part of his full repertoire by blowing past reserve forward Anthony Tolliver at the foul line and cruising down the lane for vicious right-handed dunk that gave the Knicks a 26-18 lead.
Answering Pargo’s 3s, Anthony spotted up for an 18-foot jumper to put New York up, 41-34. At that point, just 3:36 into the second quarter, Anthony had already reached 27 points, to surpass his season average of 26.1 points per game.
When Anthony finally took his first rest, with 4:34 left in the first half (much later than he normally would), he already had 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting, after making 12 of his first 16 shots.
Head Coach Mike Woodson admitted, “I’ve been in that position a few times in the last two years with Melo, where he’s got on a nice roll early and I was the one that probably cooled him off. But this time, I just elected to let him go. And he didn’t complain about it. He said, ‘Okay, let’s go.’”
Remaining blisteringly hot, Anthony made his first five shots of the third quarter, the fourth of which gave him 49 points and made him 19-for-25, as the Bobcats had 54 points on 19-of-38 shooting, by comparison.
Loud “Me-lo!” chants filled the Garden after that basket and they grew even louder when Anthony’ next shot, another 3-pointer, swelled New York’s lead to 79-54.
Less than four minutes later, a Hardaway steal led to an easy fast break layup for Anthony, to put the Knicks up, 89-60. That hoop gave Anthony a career-high 51 points, and 50 points for the fourth time in his career (the second with New York).
Almost 2½ minutes after that, Anthony hit a trey to make it 97-64, while reaching 54 points, and passing Willis Reed (1967) and Allan Houston (2003) for the next spots on the team scoring list.
Technical fouls on Jefferson and guard Gerald Henderson allowed Anthony to sink a pair of free throws and finish the third quarter with 56 points and the Knicks ahead, 101-66.
Two more free throws by Anthony, less than two minutes into the fourth period, had him going past Richie Guerrin (1959) and setting his sights on King.
On the next trip, Anthony nearly tied King in appropriately brilliant fashion, when he almost got a reverse layup with his back to the basket, to go, after getting bumped in mid-air. But the shot rimmed out.
Instead, with “M-V-P!” and more “Me-lo!” chants as his backdrop, Anthony calmly made two more foul shots to join his childhood basketball hero as the only two members of the Knicks’ 60-point club.
It took almost another 2½ minutes for Anthony to score again, but when he did, MSG exploded, as Anthony passed two more NBA legends — King and Bryant — after spinning out of a double team on the right blocks and soaring toward the hoop for his record-breaking shot.
“I thought he was going to get 80,” said Iman Shumpert (four points), who started in the other forward spot with Anthony. “Personally I would have left him in to get 80, but he was tired.”
Just before Anthony met with reporters, Shumpert joked in the locker room with Smith, referring to him by his nickname. “Yo Swish! How many you and Melo get? Together, we had 66!”
To which Smith replied, “Ah, man! We had about 80 (actually 76)!”
Smith did create his own excitement on half of his four assists — once, when he drove the lane and made a great lob to forward Jeremy Tyler (eight points, five rebounds) for a catch and one-handed dunk that gave the Knicks a 54-42 lead in the second quarter, and later, on a brilliant behind-the-back feed for a Felton layup in the fourth period.
Analogizing Anthony’s exploits, Shumpert said, “It’s like playing a video game. Just give it to one guy and just [watch him] keep shooting it.”
Before those comments, Woodson said, “Since I’ve coached him, he’s been unbelievable — that’s all I can say — for this organization. I think tonight was just one of those special nights for him… everything he threw up was going in… and we kinda rode him to a win.”
Hoping to save his star for the next game, Woodson admitted that he wasn’t aware of the records until Anthony was about to break them.
“I loved what I was seeing, but… I was probably going to try to get him out of there because we’ve got a game Sunday (at the Garden, against Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers),” Woodson said. “I’m just happy that he made the shot that he made at the end, so I could get him out.”
Shumpert was asked to go in, but he felt like doing otherwise. “I didn’t want to do it,” he said. “When I finally decided he’s running out of gas and needs a sub, Tyson and Amar’e wouldn’t let me go in. They held my arm… and then he finally scored 62 and broke the record. We were happy for him.”
Woodson, who’s job status has come into question with New York’s poor record, added, “I was calling for Iman to go in the game and he wouldn’t even go in… it shows you how much I got from a coaching standpoint. He wouldn’t go in the game because they wanted (Anthony) to get the record, and he ended up getting it, which was nice.”
One criticism of Woodson’s coaching has been his stubbornness with matching up to bigger teams rather than making those teams match up to his own. But with frontcourt injuries to Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Kenyon Martin and Metta World Peace, Woodson had no choice but to go smaller and play Anthony at the so-called ‘4,’ power forward position, a role in which Anthony has excelled since last season.
After seeing Anthony make history, Smith sort of half-joked about Anthony, “He better play the ‘4’ for the rest of the year. Whenever he’s at the ‘4,’ he causes so many mismatch problems, and I think that helps our wings as well, like Shump. Vice versa, on the other end, when their four is guarding Shump or somebody like that, we’re able to take advantage of that. [When] Carmelo’s playing the four, he can pretty much rest [defensively] because there’s not really that many powerful ‘4s,’ other than Indiana’s [David] West. It really helps us.”
Knowing he had already done enough to get the win, Anthony tried to leave the game, but couldn’t.
“My teammates, more important than anything, were telling me, ‘Go get it.’ I was actually trying to sub myself out,” he said. “They all was like, ‘No, there’s no way you’re coming back to sit on this bench.’ So just for my teammates to be as enthused with this performance as everybody else was, that just put me over the top.”
Noting how desperate the Knicks were for a victory, Anthony said, “We all needed it. I needed it, we needed it as a team… [as] a morale booster, a confidence booster. The way everybody played, not just myself, and it always helps when the ball is going in the hoop.”
Just seeing his team happy again meant the most to Anthony. “There’s no better feeling than that. On your own court, your teammates are standing up with you, the laughter, just to see everybody smiling once again, that’s what I was more excited to see. Guys on the bench smiling, high-fiving, having fun once again, that’s the only thing I care about.”
Well, that and the Garden crowd.
“The fans, I haven’t heard them like that since last year, so it was good to get that feeling back here tonight.”
Still, as memorable as it will remain for decades to come, it’s just one game, and the Knicks — just 8-15 at home, where New York went 31-10 last year — need to build off it.
“I never thought coming into this season that we would have the record that we have right now, here at home,” Woodson said. However, he also added, “Everybody in that locker room tonight, they seemed really committed and that’s what it’s going to take to get out of this hole.”
A game like Anthony provided could go a long way toward continuing that momentum.
“It just gives us energy,” Shumpert said. “That’s a positive energy going into the next game.”
That contest is at 3:30 p.m. eastern on Sunday afternoon against the Lakers (16-28), who unfortunately for all NBA fans, won’t be able to dress an injured Bryant one game after he saw his MSG scoring record fall to Anthony.
When asked what he might say to Bryant, Anthony joked, “I was coming for 81,” in reference to Bryant’s all-time scoring high for a game, against Toronto, in 2006.
Had he not left the game, Anthony might have matched that number.
However, that wasn’t his goal. He was simply focused on winning and for at least one night, being the greatest, the same way Ali used to be in the boxing ring. Anthony just had to taste victory again, and nothing would stop him.
“I can’t accept losing,” he told MSG Network’s Al Trautwig at halftime. “I’m tired of losing and we’ve got to do whatever we can to win basketball games at this point.”
So now, the focus shifts to what’s next, after King later admitted to analyst Alan Hahn, on ESPN Radio (98.7 FM, New York), that it was “just a matter of time” before Anthony broke his Garden scoring record, because of the variety of ways in which Anthony can score, and because in King’s opinion, “Carmelo Anthony is one of the greatest players to ever play the game of basketball.”
King wasn’t in attendance, but told Hahn, “I wish I was there,” the day after Anthony thought of King him and looked toward the next challenge for he and the Knicks.
“I know Bernard King’s smiling at me somewhere,” he said. “But this one’s over and we’ve got one Sunday.”