Carmelo Anthony made a triumphant return to the lineup, as he helped the Knicks beat the Nets, 100-86.
Anthony, who had missed the two previous games with a sprained left ankle, got off to a hot start, and looked as if he was never absent. But that’s what happens when a banged-up player sees an opponent who’s customarily been easy pickings — they just find a way to heal quicker. Anthony didn’t disappoint, as he registered eight of the Knicks’ first 17 points, en route to a game-high 31 points in the contest.
The Knicks’ MVP candidate said he was uncertain he’d even feel good enough to play. Unfortunately for the Nets, he gutted it out despite the injured ankle.
“I wasn’t too sure until I went out there, but throughout the game I was feeling it,” Anthony said, marveling at how quickly his shot came back to him. “There were certain things I did early in the game that I didn’t think I could do, but I told myself to get through it and play.
“It’s still bruised and I wasn’t expecting to come back the way I did. But I wanted to come back to the way I left off at, and that was my mindset.”
Point guard Raymond Felton was in awe of Anthony’s game, saying he’s not surprised at his success since missing the last two games.
“He is a special player, [and] one of a kind,” Felton said. “He can really score the basketball. You could tell he was locked in, [because] he was extremely focused. He took some time off, but he didn’t lose anything. He looked good out there.”
The Knicks (19-6) entered the game shorthanded, as reserve forwards Steve Novak (flu-like symptoms), Rasheed Wallace (sore foot) and Marcus Camby (plantar fasciitis) didn’t dress. But Anthony and his supporting cast more than picked up the slack.
Tyson Chandler also chipped in for the win, notching 16 points — mostly off dunks on the pick-and-roll or off lobs. Chandler shot 7-of-11 from the field and added three blocks.
The Knicks also gave the faithful a pleasant night on the glass, as they held their own despite being undermanned and undersized. New York entered the game 21st in rebounding, but what helped offset that deficiency was the fact they scrapped for every loose ball and got timely team rebounds when it mattered most.
Chandler led the Knicks in rebounds with 12, but also got help from others, including a surprising eight caroms from Jason Kidd. It was Chandler’s 10-point third quarter that created the necessary space for the Knicks, as they expanded a four-point halftime lead to eight. Chandler was all the muscle the Knicks needed in the interior, as his third quarter offset Deron Williams’s brilliant nine-point frame.
The veteran center said he was most proud of the way the team locked in during the second half, holding the Nets to just 38 second-half points.
“It’s two teams fighting within the division, and tonight we wanted to make a statement,” Chandler said. “Honestly, over the last couple of games, we’ve slipped a little defensively. So, we had the opportunity to practice the other day and it really made a big difference. … The previous two games [against the Nets] had been close and we felt like we gave one away.”
The Nets (13-12) have now lost two of three matchups to the Knicks this season, and have continued their slide, losing three straight, including eight of their last 10. They have now given the Knicks a comfortable six-game lead in the Atlantic Division.
What we learned …
1. Melo is back
Carmelo Anthony got the start and immediately sank his first shot. He then connected with Jason Kidd two possessions later, as the veteran point guard knocked down a 3-pointer. Anthony missed the previous two games, as the Knicks went 1-1 without him. But he looked as if he was never absent. He notched eight of the Knicks’ first 17 points, and finished the first half with 17 points, en route to a game-high 31 points. Anthony engaged in a great one-on-one duel with the Nets’ own smooth scorer, Joe Johnson, as the two scored a combined 30 points in the opening half.
2. Scrapping on offense
The Knicks collectively didn’t shoot well, as Tyson Chandler was about the only other successful offensive player — with the caveat that most of his points came off lob dunks. Chandler recorded 10 of his 16 points in the pivotal third quarter, as the Knicks upped a four-point halftime lead to eight. Chandler also snatched 12 rebounds, as he held his own against the Nets’ frontline despite the Knicks missing three key reserves (Steve Novak, Rasheed Wallace, and Marcus Camby). J.R. Smith was his usual spark off the bench, notching 19 points, as he was on the floor during the third and fourth-quarter bridge that helped blow the doors open.
3. Turning up the D
The Knicks’ defense allowed only four Nets’ players to reach double figures, a nice stat, but it’s what they did to Johnson in the second half that turned the tide. Johnson’s great first-half duel proved to be a mirage, as he finished with only 17 points, as the Knicks began to focus their attention on Brooklyn’s best scorer.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.