Basketball people already knew it. Now the rest of New York does. If the Melo megatrade makes the Knicks contenders this season, it will be due to 34-year-old Chauncey Billups, the point guard with the moxie to harness the team’s star-studded power.
Acquired with Carmelo Anthony from Denver in last week’s 13-player trade, Billups guided the Knicks to their biggest win in years on Sunday, a 91-86 triumph at Miami. Mr. Big Shot’s go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:01 remaining came as the Heat denied passing lanes to Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. He faked to Anthony, then rose up over Dwyane Wade.
“What he has, I don’t think you coach it,” said Billups’s former college coach, Joe Harrington, during a telephone interview Monday. “That’s part of his being — to understand what to do at a certain time.”
Boosting his natural grasp of basketball is a desire to learn, Harrington said: “He drained my mind because he wanted to know all I knew about basketball. He was forever asking questions.”
The job of replacing Raymond Felton here was not foreseen by a Denver guy who wants to work with the Nuggets after he retires. But it may be a fitting career capstone for the MVP of the 2004 NBA Finals, who is averaging 21 points, 6 assists and 4.3 rebounds in three games since joining the Knicks.
“What a great setup for him. It’s just beautiful,” said Harrington, 65, who recruited Billups to Colorado in 1995. “If that’s the last team he plays with, what a great way to finish up his basketball career. ... It’s center stage, and that’s what he’s all about.”
Max J. Dickstein (mdickstein [at] am-ny [dot] com) is amNewYork’s sports editor. Follow him @amNYsports.