Carmelo Anthony was making long jumpers look like layups and appeared headed for a 50-point game. Unfortunately for the Knicks, they would have needed him to hit that and more to beat the Clippers yesterday.
Anthony's run at 50, and ultimately the Knicks' hopes of winning, stopped when Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro dusted off 40-year-old Grant Hill and assigned him to guard the Knicks star down the stretch.
Hill helped hold Anthony to two shots and only four of his 42 points in the final quarter of the Knicks' 102-88 loss to the Clippers at the Garden.
"He denied," Anthony said. "I heard their coaches yelling, 'Don't let him catch it! Make it tough!' They were sending two guys at me in the pick-and-roll, trapping pick-and-rolls. They made an adjustment, especially late in the fourth quarter."
The Knicks (32-17) had no answer for that as they were outscored 31-18 in the fourth. They also had no answer for the Clippers' perimeter players.
Chris Paul, who returned Friday after missing nine games with a knee injury, got wherever he wanted on the court, and Jamal Crawford showed why he's the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.
Crawford scored 27 points, 11 in the fourth. Paul had 25 points, seven assists and four steals. Backup point guard Eric Bledsoe added 13 points and shot 6-for-6.
The Clippers' bench outscored the Knicks' reserves 48-15. J.R. Smith was 1-for-9 and scored six points.
"Chris set the tone early," Crawford said. "That's why he's an MVP candidate. Whenever he's out there, he brings a different problem, a different look."
Anthony showed why he's an MVP candidate, too. He couldn't be stopped for three quarters and was the only reason the Knicks were in the game against the more athletic and deeper Clippers (36-17).
Anthony scored 20 points in the first half and 18 in the third quarter. He shot 7-for-10, including 4-for-5 from three-point range, in the third to lead the Knicks back from a 12-point deficit and send them to the fourth down 71-70.
That's when Hill picked up Anthony early and tried to keep the ball out of his hands. Anthony didn't attempt his first shot until 5:25 remained and hit his only basket with 3:18 left.
"He's a challenge, man, especially when you're sitting for three quarters," Hill said. "You try to make him work. He's been playing out of his mind this year. I think he's gotten better.
"You've got to pick him up on the opposite end. As soon as we change ends, it's like 'Where's Melo? Let's find him.' "
Mike Woodson blamed himself for sitting Anthony the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, saying he might have broken his rhythm.
"I don't know if he wanted me to play the whole 48," Anthony said. "He can't blame that on himself."
Raymond Felton was the only other Knick to reach double figures. He suffered a neck injury in the third quarter but returned and finished with 20 points.
The Knicks went ahead 73-71 on Amar'e Stoudemire's three-point play on the first possession of the fourth quarter. But the Clippers regained control with a 19-5 run, going ahead 90-78 on a jump shot by Blake Griffin (17 points, 12 rebounds) with 4:57 left.
Anthony's only basket of the fourth cut it to 92-84, and the Knicks drew within six on Felton's fast-break layup with 2:48 left.
On the ensuing trip, Paul drove, scored and was fouled, although he couldn't convert the three-point play. After the Knicks committed back-to-back turnovers, Paul got in the lane again and hit a runner that made it 97-86 with 1:40 left.
"It seemed like we just couldn't get over the hump," Anthony said. "We had our spurts today. We didn't put a complete game together."