In the early goings of this NBA season, the Knicks are off to what is their strongest start in years. The team's new winning ways can be largely attributed to Carmelo Anthony, who has emerged as an M.V.P. candidate while representing one of the league's very top scorers.
On Thursday night, Anthony displayed other reasons as to why this is truly his year, aside from his ability to score the basket.
Despite scoring 25 points against the Magic on Tuesday, and aside from what people may believe from checking out the box score from that night, the opponent made it difficult for Anthony to score. Orlando forced him to log a gritty effort on offense as they double-teammed and trapped him all game, not allowing the forward to drive to the basket.
This may not have been sufficient enough preparation, but certainly an even tougher matchup lied ahead for Anthony and his Knicks on Thursday evening. In a game between the teams with the NBA's best records, New York and the Spurs rumbled in San Antonio.
The game was truly a test for the Knicks to gauge where they might be as a contender. The Knicks, the media, and all the team's fans knew that heading into the evening. But what was interesting, however, was how the game tested New York's ability to come out victorious without Anthony's name at the top of the scoring leader board.
Use him as an offensive decoy. That's what the Syracuse product suggested to his team as the Spurs pestered him defensively. Shooting just 3 for 12 and scoring just 9 points in the contest, Anthony still managed to motivate the rest of his team to pour in the points as well.
With Anthony struggling to score, the Knicks fell behind the Spurs by double-digits heading into the game's final minutes. With time running out, it would have been easy to let up and realize a loss to the Spurs would have been as justified as any loss could be.
But the Knicks have become bulldogs. Displaying yet another gritty effort of his own, Anthony set the tone for his team. He willed his way to finding other ways to contribute. The forward fought for rebounds, grabbing a team-high 12 boards. What's more, Anthony was a vocal leader and helped moved the ball to get his teammates scoring opportunities instead.
And they couldn't have cashed in on them any better. In one of his better scoring performances as a Knickerbocker, Jason Kidd planted himself behind the three-point line and let it rain to help narrow his team's gap. He finished with 14 points. J.R. Smith also came up in the clutch once again. The swingman struggled early on, but added 17 points as he got back on track during the game's late goings.
But with Anthony not able to score and Amar'e Stoudemire still sidelined, a true second-in-command teammate needs to emerge. That's continuously been Raymond Felton so far, and Thursday night was no different. Helping command his team's offense throughout, the floor general led the way with 25 points and 7 assists.
This Knickerbocker squad has fight. It would have been easy to let this one get away from them, but the team is now full of veterans who don't like to lose.
That's been the difference. Whereas the Knicks have struggled over the years to put teams away late in the game, they now have winners on board. Filling out the roster are motivated and experienced veterans who know how to win during pressure-filled moments, and it showed against the Spurs.
Such a special effort resulted in a 104-100 victory on the road, good for New York's sixth straight win. They'll carry that winning streak (and the ever flowing momentum) into Memphis with them to face the Grizzlies Friday night.