NEW YORK -- Carmelo Anthony sat in a silent corner of the losers' locker room with blood in his eye, literally and figuratively, all alone with his faraway thoughts while the Boston Celtics left the Garden ring the way Joe Frazier left it 40 years back -- in a delirious state of exhaustion and pain.
No, the Celtics hadn't knocked down the greatest of them all, just the opponent said to represent the greatest New York Knicks trade since Dave DeBusschere was acquired from Detroit. Anthony went up for a long Boston inbounds pass, like a cornerback trying to break up a fly pattern, and Rajon Rondo went up with him, his elbow crashing into Melo's face.
Rondo came up with the ball, and down went Anthony, his left eye an unruly mess. The Boston point guard found Glen Davis for a layup, then fell over the cut and crumpled Anthony near midcourt as he backpedaled his way toward the other end.
The Knicks were going to succumb yet again, and the entire scene opened a window on the soul of the Celtics, still the proudest of Eastern Conference heavyweights. They scored 37 lousy points in the first half, Rondo and the 30-something stars who make up the Big Three, and then their coach, Doc Rivers, ignored the 14-point halftime deficit and the fact that his team's Jurassic legs were screaming for mercy in the middle of a third game in four nights.
Rivers called his players "soft," an adjective he hadn't used as a weapon in four years. Professional athletes like being called soft about as much as they like being called chokers.
"I'd like to see the Celtics play in this game," Rivers barked at his team.
So the Celtics came out and played. A knowledgeable Garden crowd expected that, even accepted that. But as Boston decided to turn a March night into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, that crowd didn't expect, or accept, what became of Anthony, the guy who scored 17 points in the first half and didn't make a single field goal in the second.
Boston outscored the Knicks 33-17 in the fourth quarter, when Anthony missed all three of his shots and sank four foul shots, two of them gifts from the refs. A victim of a game so violent it would have sent the '85 Bears running for cover, Melo sat out the final 2:01 after trying and failing to give it a go with that cut in the corner of his eye.
"Whatever they put on it," he said of the trainers, "I thought I was cool until I got in there and it started seeping into my eye. And I couldn't open my eye after that."
The no-mas was understandable, yet symbolic all the same. The Knicks set the physical tone in the second quarter, when Anthony dropped Davis with an elbow of his own. In the third quarter, Jared Jeffries sliced open Ray Allen's forehead with another elbow under the hoop, leaving Allen with scarlet tributaries snaking about his bald head and leaving his mother, Flo -- sitting courtside beside Spike Lee -- looking ready to charge the Knicks' bench.
Soon enough, Allen was emerging from the Garden tunnel, Willis Reed style, wearing a bandage the size of a beach towel. He would find a Celtics team that already was punching back; Nenad Krstic, of all softies, had started the fourth quarter by dropping Chauncey Billups on a blind pick.
Amare Stoudemire would fling the bandaged Allen to the floor, then engage in a mini-dustup with Paul Pierce. Billups made the Garden quake on a three-point play to give the Knicks an 82-73 lead with 7:26 left, and still Boston refused to let go of the night.
No, the Celtics instead decided to introduce the Knicks, Anthony's Knicks, to the frantic pace and physicality of a Game 7. The Celtics scored 23 of the game's final 27 points, and fittingly enough, it was Allen who gave his team its first lead of the fourth, sinking a reverse layup while Anthony flew by in vain.
"That's why they're competing for a world championship," Mike D'Antoni said.
And why D'Antoni's Knicks are not.
"It was a bloodbath," Rivers said. "I thought that was beautiful."
The imagery of the bloodied Allen scoring the final four points while the bloodied Anthony sat on the bench was reminiscent of another Boston-New York scene, in 2004, when Derek Jeter dove face-first into the Yankee Stadium stands while a disgruntled Nomar Garciaparra -- who had pulled himself from the lineup with a nagging leg injury -- watched from his dugout. Garciaparra was traded a few weeks later.
No, Anthony isn't going anywhere, and nobody can question his toughness or stomach for the endgame fight. But after 16 games in New York, so far isn't so good.
Anthony is 7-9 for his alleged dream team. He already has criticized D'Antoni (for his defensive strategy, or lack thereof), chastised a teammate (Jeffries) and run scared from the news media after a bad game (in Detroit). On Monday night, when presented a chance to repel the Celtics, Anthony came across as a shell of his counterpart, Pierce, who scored 13 on 5-of-5 shooting across the closing 12 minutes.
So after the final horn sounded, Anthony lost himself in thought on the Knicks' bench. He said he was thinking "that we're going to get it right. We don't need to panic or anything like that. ... For the most part, I was just sitting there thinking, 'This ship is going to turn right.' I'm excited about it."
Only Anthony didn't look or sound excited as he sat in his corner of the locker room, head down, his left eye still looking angrier than any exiting Knicks fan.
"They're much better," Rivers had said of the post-trade Knicks before adding, "on paper. ... And they will be on the floor."
Rivers likely will be proven right. But if the Knicks are to win more games than they did before doing business with Denver, this much is certain:
Carmelo Anthony will have to be better than this, as in much.