Those were Carmelo Anthony's words to Danilo Gallinari after the two met after the final buzzer of the Knicks' 109-104 win over the Nuggets Tuesday night at the Garden. 'Melo came away impressed with Gallo after the two went toe-to-toe for most of the second half, including a memorable stint in the third quarter when the two traded baskets and trash talk while a rowdy Garden crowd roared with delight.
"It was kind of fun for me to see him hold his ground and not back down," Anthony said. "He was kind of talking back to me out there, too. I was kind of surprised."
Gallinari seemed to thrive off the intensity. He had 17 of his 28 points in the quarter (against 12 by Melo, who finished with 36) and showed a great deal of emotion. After one three-point bomb, he looked into the crowd with wicked eyes and pounded his chest. Ah, the Americanization is almost complete.
"It was great," Gallinari said. "That's the moment that you play basketball for. That was a great moment for me, as a player, and everybody. That was fun."
It came after an extremely quiet first half by Gallinari, who a day earlier talked about how he looked forward to taking on the challege of defending star players such as Anthony. Barely two minutes into the game, Anthony hit his first two shots and Mike D'Antoni switched to a 3-2 matchup zone.
Carmelo had 16 at the half and Gallinari, who missed his first five shots, had just 4 (1-for-7 FGs, 1-for-3 from downtown). A pair of free throws by Anthony 1:33 into the third gave Denver a six point lead (57-51). Then Toney Douglas nailed a three and Tracy McGrady hit a jumper. At 8:40, Gallinari hit a 22-footer to give the Knicks a 58-57 lead.
The two sides traded leads and then Anthony hit two FTs with 6:14 to go to cut the Knicks lead to 65-64. Gallinari lost the ball out of bounds on the next possession and Carmelo drilled a 22-footer with 5:46 to go in the third to put Denver ahead.
And then it began. Seven seconds later, Gallinari buried a three-pointer over Anthony. 68-66, Knicks.
They head down the other end, bumping and growling at each other. Then Anthony hits from 21-feet over Gallinari 16 seconds later. 68-68.
Twelve seconds went by when Gallinari drew a foul on Joey Graham while driving to the basket. He made both to make it a 70-68 lead for the Knicks.
Eighteen seconds more and Anthony again drains a long-range jumper over Gallinari. Tied at 70. The talking continues. Enough to make the officials give them a warning to cut out the chatter.
Gallinari was asked what was being said. "Slang," Gallinari replied.
I asked if he used any Italian, or if Melo, who is Puerto Rican, dropped some Spanish on him.
"No, it was slang English," Gallo replied with a grin. "I was talking slang, too."
A dunk by Graham and a layup by Douglas snap the string of points exclusive to the Gallo-Melo matchup at that point. But then Anthony hit another mid-range jumper with 3:07 left to give Denver a 74-72 lead. That was answered 44 seconds later with Gallinari's third three-pointer of the quarter to give the Knicks a 75-74 lead.
Another three-point bomb came with 1:34 left as part of an 11-0 run to end the quarter.
"That right there," said Tracy McGrady, who played the entire quarter, "was great basketball to watch."
Carmelo seemed to think so. Despite the loss, he praised his 21-year-old adversary with some words of encouragement as the game ended.
"I told him I was watching him from afar," Carmelo said. "I love what he's doing; just keep working. He's gotten a lot better from when he first came in. A lot of people turned their heads on him, but he's turned it on big time."
This is true: It was Gallinari's third straight 20-plus point performance and fouth in the last five games. But one concern is that as quickly as he caught fire, Gallinari went suddenly cold again. In the fourth quarter, he missed four of his five FGAs, including all four looks from three-point range. His one bucket was a tricky reverse layup (and one) with 5:25 left to give the Knicks an 8-point cushion. And he did go 5-for-5 from the line, including four FTMs in the final 1:46, with the clinching pair snapping the net with 18.1 ticks left on the clickety.
But it was somewhat concerning that at crunch time, just over a minute to go and up 105-104, Gallinari had the ball in his hands and didn't even look at the rim. He gave it up to Al Harrington, who turned it over with 1:01 left in the game.
D'Antoni isn't as much concerned about Gallo passing up shots as he is in Gallo staying locked in every game, every possession, like he was in that third quarter. As we saw in the first half, and several times throughout this season, he has a tendency to disappear.
It's great that Gallinari gets up for the challenges of taking on the Carmelos and the LeBrons, etc., but Gallinari needs to make every game his own personal challenge to be the best player on the court.
"If he wants to go to that next level," D'Antoni said, "then the game's got to be the challenge."
* * *
* - Along with Gallinari, Toney Douglas had a strong second half, as well, after he was manhandled by Billups through most of the first half, which resulted in early foul trouble. Douglas had all 7 of his assists in that 34-point third quarter for the Knicks and also nailed a big pull-up jumper with 27.8 seconds left to give the Knicks a 107-104 lead. He had 9 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.
* - Have to recognize Al Harrington (23 points of the bench) who made 8 of 14 from the floor and grabbed 9 rebounds and really gave a physical effort defensively.
* - David Lee had 12 points and 16 rebounds and started racking up the fouls in the second half. He appeared to have fouled out with 3:30 left when referee Bill Spooner called him for an offensive charge on J.R. Smith. Lee immediately pleaded his case and reminded Spooner that it would be his sixth foul. Spooner shooed Lee away and conferred with referee Brian Forte and then changed the call from an offensive charge to a blocking foul on Smith. Lee's free throws make it a 101-96 lead. No question a critical moment in the game for the Nuggets.
* - I continue to be amazed by the atmosphere at the Garden, despite the fact that the home team is in its ninth straight losing season and playing out the schedule. This game was the eighth sellout in the last 10 home games and 23rd of the season, which ties last year's total. These people were genuinely into the game and the place was rocking in the fourth quarter as if a playoff berth was on the line.
Though I'd be later mocked for it -- "The crowd," one veteran scribe so disdainfully condescended, "is not an angle." -- I was curious to hear what D'Antoni (embattled for much of this season) thought of all this.
"That's why it's New York," he said. "It's the best. Every game is, we talked about it before, every game is a show."
McGrady said he is surprised with the crowds this team continues to attract despite the awful record this season (and for most of the previous decade), but he says there's no need for the Knicks to even promote this aspect to prospective free agents this summer. Why not?
"The guys . . . look forward to coming to MSG," he said. "Every great player that plays in this league, this is the one place that they really get their rest and they look forward to playing in front of these fans. So they know. It's there every night. They know."
What they don't know is what it would be like if a superstar owned the stage every night. Billups, for one, sounded intrigued.
"It would be cool," he said, "to come into this place and see No. 6 out there."
No. 6, of course, is a reference to the jersey number LeBron James plans to wear next season, wherever he ends up.