The New York Knicks were down two with less than a minute to go. Carmelo Anthony had the ball in his hands. Everyone inside Madison Square Garden -- the fans, the Phoenix Suns, even the security guards -- knew Anthony was going to take the shot.
But the Knicks' star had other ideas.
With the game hanging in the balance on Monday night, Anthony saw Raymond Felton out of the corner of his eye. Instead of forcing an off-balance shot, Anthony kicked it to Felton with the shot clock winding down.
The Knicks point guard caught the ball and drained a baseline 3-pointer to give New York a two-point lead.
"For Raymond to get the ball and me to believe in him -- that he can make that shot -- it was a big moment," Anthony said.
There have been plenty of keys to the Knicks' five-game winning streak. They've played better defense, they've taken care of the ball, they've started to make open shots.
But one of the underrated aspects to the Knicks' success has been Anthony's passing.
The Knicks star had four assists on Monday night against Phoenix. New York improved to 11-2 when Anthony has at least four assists. The club is 5-1 when he has five or more. And the Knicks are just 4-17 when Anthony has three assists or fewer.
"Melo attracts so much attention that he makes it easy for himself passing the ball," said Iman Shumpert, one of the beneficiaries of Anthony's ball-sharing. "He is underrated as a passer. I think he could see better than a lot of people give him credit for. I think it's all about him staying aggressive and when guys double him, he can make an easy pass."
Anthony has been making it look easy of late. In Philadelphia on Saturday, he had a season-high seven assists. He handed out five in the Knicks' win over Miami on Thursday.
"He’s doing a great job. He’s making the right play," Felton said of Anthony, who also had 16 rebounds against Phoenix. "He understands that we need him to score, but he understands now that he can make the extra pass to us. He has confidence that we’re going to hit that shot for him."
The numbers bear out Felton's point.
Anthony is averaging four assists in his past seven games, a full assist more than what he'd averaged prior to that stretch. The Knicks, coincidentally or not, have won six of those seven games.
Anthony's assist rate -- or the percentage of teammate field goals a player assists while he's on the floor -- averages to 20 percent over the past seven games. It was 14 percent prior to that.
So all signs point to Anthony's ball-sharing being a driving force behind the Knicks' recent success.
Also, the increase in assists is a sign the Knicks are making shots. New York is shooting 46.6 from the floor in its past seven games and knocking down 38 percent of its 3-pointers. For perspective, the Knicks are shooting 43.7 from the field on the season and 35.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Credit goes across the board for that improvement. And at least some of it should go to Anthony.
"Passing the ball is starting to become more of his forte at this point," Amar'e Stoudemire said. "The more he passes the ball the more he gets going."
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