Shooting star Carmelo Anthony dazzles under pressure

Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks celebrates after assisting

Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks celebrates after assisting on a basket in the second half against the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden. (April 9, 2013) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

For those of us who enjoy a side of psychological drama with our sports feast, 2012 was a vintage year during which high-profile New York athletes were tested, tortured and eventually toppled.

But 2013 has delivered us someone even more interesting, a star in his prime (unlike the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez) with unquestioned ability (unlike the Jets' Mark Sanchez) whose complicated legacy is unfolding before us.

Everyone, Carmelo Anthony included, understood before the playoffs began that he would bear the brunt of the blame if the Knicks flopped. "Always," he said with a smile after they ousted the Celtics on Friday night.

Things got even more complicated than expected in Round One, during which shouldering the burden included the burden of a sore left shoulder, a shooting slump, trash talk that dragged his wife, LaLa, into the conversation, a briefly harrowing two-game losing streak and, finally, a fourth-quarter near-death-spiral in Game 6.

To his credit, just when it seemed to be falling apart, Anthony scored seven consecutive Knicks points, including a three-pointer that effectively ended the series and probably ended an era in Boston.

It was the sort of moment he sought when he angled to be traded to the Knicks -- a deal consummated by the guy who now is president of the Pacers, Donnie Walsh.

Continuing to make shots is the best way for Melo to answer his critics and doubters, both because that is all that really matters and because it usually is not his nature to react angrily. (His January confrontation with Kevin Garnett excepted.)

Melo's default demeanor is mellow -- a smiling, what-me-worry sort of guy who prefers that we not see him sweat, which has made him an enigmatic star more difficult to dislike than A-Rod but still not fully embraceable.

When confronted Friday with the fact that if the Knicks had fallen to the Celtics, he would have been fingered for the crime, he said he does not and cannot consider such things.

"As far as failure goes, I can't step onto the court thinking about that," he said. "It's all about me persevering, me succeeding, my teammates succeeding, we succeeding as a team.

"When you start second-guessing everything, you start playing with doubt, it brings a lot of stress to the basketball game. I can't afford to play under those circumstances."

The Knicks can't afford that, either, because to survive the Pacers -- a far sprier team than the creaky Celtics -- they likely will need Anthony to snap out of his ongoing shooting funk.

In his past three games, he is 25-for-82 from the field, including 1-for-18 on three-point attempts. He has shot less than 50 percent from the field in all six playoff games.

But Anthony never admits to concern or doubt about his shot. That is a given in his world. All that matters now is continuing to win, and as a byproduct validating a career that to this point has been a postseason bust.

"As a team, we're hungry; I'm starving," he said yesterday as he looked toward the Pacers, looking as relaxed about the situation as he usually does. He also acknowledged, "I haven't done anything yet."

If the Knicks beat the Pacers and lose a competitive series to the Heat, they will have had a successful season by any fair measure. If they do not advance further than this, fans will be justifiably disappointed.

Either way, Anthony accepts that he will be in the middle of it. Always.