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Melo knows all eyes will be on him

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Carmelo Anthony is ready for his close-up.

With the Knicks trying to avoid an 0-3 deficit in their best-of-seven first-round playoff series with the Boston Celtics, and the possibility of playing with a limited Amar'e Stoudemire (back) and without Chauncey Billups (knee), Anthony will step onto the Madison Square Garden court for Friday night's Game 3 with the desperation of a franchise on his shoulders and the focus directly on him.

"Without them two guys, I think me, personally, I have to step up and do it all to try and win," the four-time All-Star said Thursday.

Anthony couldn't have done much more -- other than perhaps taking the last shot rather than passing to Jared Jeffries on that infamous final possession -- to help the Knicks win Game 2 in Boston on Tuesday. His 42 points, 17 rebounds and six assists was an all-time performance, but it still resulted in a loss.

And though some criticized his decision to pass rather than shoot -- after he was criticized for shooting rather than passing on the final possession of Game 1 -- others chastised Anthony for how he seemed satisfied in defeat. He even used the word "fun" to describe the game. Gasp! Kobe Bryant never would have talked like that.

"I'm not Kobe, though," Anthony replied with his ubiquitous Cheshire cat grin in place. "I ain't Kobe, man."

No, he doesn't obsess over losses. He doesn't hold a personal shootaround after a defeat on the road, the way Bryant did in Miami in mid-March. (Told of his good friend's post-game penance, Anthony that night smirked, shook his head and said, "Go home, Kobe.") Anthony isn't nearly as tightly wound as Bryant. He seems to prefer to revel in the thrill of the moment and then let it go.

Anthony has made more game-winning shots (16) in the final 10 seconds than any other NBA player (including Bryant) since his rookie season. To say he lacks the will to win is inaccurate. To say he lacked fire after a loss in which he had one of his greatest performances is saying he's human and a realist.

"I still have fun in those games," he said. "We were on the road; nobody would ever have said the Knicks would have a chance to win both games in Boston, so I'll take that. We could have won both of those games. We could have been up 2-0, and you probably wouldn't be asking me that question."

Anthony wanted to come to New York for the big-market expectations and the big-stage atmosphere he's about to bask in as the Garden hosts its first NBA playoff game in seven years. But he also came to join another star in Stoudemire who would take some of the burden off him.

Yet for the rest of this series, Anthony may be left to battle with a ragtag supporting cast of scrappers.

"As I told you before, there's no way I can do it all by myself," he said. "We've been doing a great job of that these last couple games -- guys stepping up. Especially for this being some of their first times in this situation."

If Stoudemire can't play effectively, the Celtics will have a simple game plan: double-team Anthony and make one of the supporting cast beat them. Anthony tossed the "must-win" label around late in the season and he applied it directly to Friday night's game as well.

"This is the hardest game, by far, that we've played this season," he said.

"I'll play 48 [minutes] if I have to," he added. "It's playoffs now. You've got to leave it all out there on the court."

With a win, this would be the night he can claim that court as his own.

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