Burden in playoffs squarely on Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony pumps his fist after assisting on

Carmelo Anthony pumps his fist after assisting on a basket against the Boston Celtics during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. (April 20, 2013) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

You could almost feel the coils tightening, set to spring into a three-day frenzy of social media and talk radio angst aimed squarely at Carmelo Kyam Anthony.

There were the Celtics on Saturday, having endured his early spurt and now taking root in Melo's head as he lapsed into a worst-case scenario for the Knicks: the offense congealing as he missed shots, over-dribbled, complained to an official as the Celtics scampered downcourt and generally grew increasingly discombobulated.

Soon reporters would be dredging up Anthony's long history of postseason disappointment, wondering if the Celtics would torture him into a series-long funk.

Then came the fourth quarter and, well, you know the rest. The Celtics turned out to be old and slow and without any semblance of a proper point guard, the home team's defense stiffened and Melo made four key baskets, a nifty steal and even one improbable assist to Kenyon Martin.

So what if it took him nearly 47½ minutes to record his first (and last) assist of the day?

Afterward, Anthony pronounced himself unconcerned with the mushy middle of his afternoon.

"I was just missing shots; I missed a couple of wide-open shots, nobody even on me,'' he said. "Those are shots I would normally make. It happened. I didn't let that get to me . . . We're not worried about that.''

Check back Tuesday night for more evidence one way or the other.

But the Knicks had better hope Melo fully understands what he is in for during what they hope is a two-month postseason run. Even on a team with former All-Stars and a future Hall of Famer in Jason Kidd, if the Knicks succeed, Anthony will get much of the credit, but every time they falter, he will get much of the blame -- and the analysis of his game and psyche that will come with it.

This is the life he chose, of course. But now, more than ever, he is going to find out how demanding being in this position can be in the big city.

If he rises to that challenge, he can work himself into the discussion alongside Derek Jeter and Eli Manning among the biggest active sports stars around here. But that conversation is 15 wins away -- or at least seven.

The Celtics are a fine foil to start with on the Road to LeBron, given their savvy coach, Doc Rivers, and defenders who come at Anthony in waves, led by Jeff Green and Brandon Bass.

"Boston knows Melo and knows he is not going anywhere,'' Mike Woodson said after Game 1. "They are making it as tough as possible for him to score the ball . . . When we got into a tough stretch, he made the plays we needed him to make. That is what the great ones do; they figure it out.''

Green faded down the stretch as Anthony rallied. Rivers said he must find ways to give his guy more rest. Green's nearly 46 minutes were the most on either team.

"I thought there were areas late [shot] clock where we really broke down and allowed [Anthony] to catch the ball,'' Rivers said. "Melo caught the ball late clock in the fourth quarter three or four times with less than eight seconds left, and that shouldn't happen.''

The Celtics might not be equipped to prevent it from happening. But more competent foils are ahead, as are many more Melodramas.

Some days he will be good, others he will not, and sometimes, like Saturday, he will be both. One thing he can count on is that everyone will be watching for any sign of weakness, ready to pounce.