Carmelo Anthony drilled a 3-pointer, turned and nodded in approval. He drilled another jumper and stuck his tongue out while he trotted down court. He played to the crowd and the crowd played back. It looked like he was playing at home.
And it sounded like it, too.
When Anthony stepped to the free throw line with a little more than four minutes remaining in the Knicks' 104-95 win over the Nets on Wednesday night, the crowd rained down the "M-V-P!" chant that Anthony has yet to hear at Madison Square Garden this season. It would have been very surprising, except for the fact that there were clearly more Knicks fans than Nets fan at the Prudential Center, for the final meeting between the Knicks and Nets in New Jersey before the Nets move to Brooklyn next season.
“It felt good,” said Anthony, who scored 33 points, with seven rebounds and four assists. “I’m not the MVP. It felt good to see the jerseys on the road, to see all the Knicks uniforms in the stands, the Knicks fans out there. It was a great Knicks atmosphere out there tonight.”
It started when the crowd booed the Nets during introductions, and erupted when Tyson Chandler caught his first thunderous two-handed dunk. The crowd audibly held its breath when Steve Novak squared up for a 3-point attempt.
“I thought we were at the Garden for a minute,” said J.R. Smith (15 points), who played at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark and grew up watching the Jason Kidd-led Nets, which went to two straight NBA Finals. “I was looking for Spike (Lee). The fans were unbelievable. I think it’s more here now because we’ve been playing so well and plus they’re moving next year, so I think it’s kind of hard (to choose) between loyalty. But any fans we get, we’ll take it.”
Anthony gave the fans plenty to cheer about. He hit his first five shots, two of which were 3-pointers. Anthony scored 21 points in the first quarter. The entire Nets team had 22 first-quarter points.
“I expect him to continue to play like that,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “He’s not only playing well but he’s making the guys around him play better as well. That’s the sign of a great player in our league, and I’m happy for Melo because there was a lot of heat on him when he came to New York and it’s nice to see the benefits of playing well in New York.”
Anthony has scored 30 or more points in six of his last nine games, including two 40-plus performances. He is averaging 32.2 points per game in April, and shooting over 50 percent. The Knicks' star forward is playing his best basketball and appears physically more buoyant and active than he has all season.
"I don't think I've felt like this in a while, just feeling good about myself, feeling good about my body, where I'm at physically, where I'm at mentally," he said. "Everything is clear. I have a lot of clarity right now. Everything is just fun, being out there with the guys playing basketball games. I told you guys when we were starting to make this stretch run that these are important times."
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