We celebrate the big stories everyone is buzzing about after each day of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. In today's edition: Carmelo Anthony is unbelievable, his New York Knicks teammates are not, the cagey Boston Celtics do it again, the old geezers win one in Dallas and the Hawks-Magic series is unbearable.
1. Carmelo Anthony goes into Beast Mode
We've spent so much time this year lamenting what Carmelo Anthony cannot do while forgetting the one thing he is capable of doing that almost nobody else in this league can: take a team on his back and carry them. With Chauncey Billups sidelined and Amar'e Stoudemire crouched to the floor trying to fix his ailing back, Anthony decided to take over, scoring 42 points and grabbing 17 rebounds to keep the Knicks afloat. It wasn't just those numbers that were impressive; it was the fact that Anthony was hitting impossible shot after impossible shot. The only way the Celtics, arguably the league's best defensive team, could guard him was to send waves of double teams his way.
To be honest, though, I got more of a kick out of the way people reacted to Anthony's performance than the performance itself. Marv Albert jogged his memory enough to throw in a reference to Bernard King. Charles Barkley, a man who once dropped 44 and 24 in the Western Conference Finals, said it was one of the best playoff performances he'd ever seen. Adrian Wojnarowski called it "mesmerizing." Something about the narrative -- two big-market teams, an old-time rivalry and the baggage of the Anthony trade in the first place -- propped the performance up even higher than one would expect.
Look, it was great and a lot of fun to watch. But we've seen Anthony hit impossible shots before. We of all people should have known better. We should have known that he has a history of carrying teams on his back offensively in spots where the degree of difficulty is incredibly high. While we shouldn't have expected him to score 42 and grab 17 rebounds, we should have given him a little more credit than we have all season.
2. The rest of the Knicks are party poopers
Of course, when the Celtics double-teamed Anthony, that left it all up to his teammates. Seeing as his teammates didn't include Stoudemire, Billups or super rookie Landry Fields (benched for ineffectiveness), things didn't go so well. The Knicks got a couple unexpected buckets from Roger Mason and Jared Jeffries, but then both players morphed back into Roger Mason and Jared Jeffries. Consider the final possession of the game, which you can see here (via Blazers Edge).
That play prompted ESPN's Ian O'Connor to write this:
They lost, 96-93, because Anthony threw a pass to a teammate, Jared Jeffries, whose offensive game reminds of a critique the old Temple coach, John Chaney, made of a wayward-shooting North Carolina player who made a play that denied Temple a bygone bid to the Final Four.
Of King Rice, Chaney would say, "We got beat that day by a guy who couldn't sink a shot if you dropped his ass through the rim with the ball in his hands."
3. The cagey, experienced, veteran, cerebral, [insert adjective here] Celtics do it again
By the way, the Celtics won the game. You'd think this didn't happen, given all the attention Anthony received, but yes, it did. For the second straight game, Boston got whatever it wanted in crunch time. First, Kevin Garnett backed down Jeffries for a jump hook without a hint of a double team. Then, they doubled Anthony and got a steal and a timeout from Garnett. Finally, they threw the ball into the backcourt and basically dribbled out the clock. It was a flawless display of execution in "winning time" and reinforced the Celtics as the beacon of good basketball in contrast to the team of stars thrown together at the last minute. All is well in the world.
Except, of course, for the part where the Celtics barely beat a team of Carmelo Anthony and a bunch of scrubs. Let's conveniently gloss over that part.
4. The old geezers win in Dallas
What do you do as an opponent when you let Dirk Nowitzki, Peja Stojakovic and Jason Kidd combine for 72 points in a game? You hope and pray that it's 2003, and that the last eight years were all a dream. For one night, we can credit the brilliance of Mark Cuban for reuniting the 2003 Western Conference All-Star team. Congratulations, Mark Cuban!
Sure, the Mavericks are up 2-0 on the Blazers now, and sure, the whole idea of a team being able to have "bodies" to slow Nowitzki seems kind of silly. But whenever you're counting on Kidd and Stojakovic to shoot a combined 15-24 from the field, are you really that significant of a favorite, even up 2-0? These are questions that will surely be answered in the coming days, especially as the 2003 Western Conference Playoffs roll on. Sorry, I couldn't resist one more joke.
5. Magic-Hawks and the seven-game series that will never end
So how about that emphatic win by the Magic to reassert control in their series over the Hawks? Only 82 points given up? Yeah, you show them who's boss, Orlando. Way to throw the Hawks back into their shell and make them cower in fear of a repeat of the "Semifinal Massacre of 2010."
What's that? You only scored 88 points yourself and you trailed by double digits during the game? Everyone on your team not named Dwight Howard combined to shoot 18-66 from the field? Boy, you sure showed them!
Can this series please end already? No disrespect to Magic and Hawks fans, but unless you're one of those people who subscribe to the idea that PLAYOFF BASKETBALL is supposed to be ugly, you're probably focusing your energy elsewhere.