Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
Everyone understood before the playoffs began that Carmelo Anthony would get much of the blame or much of the praise for how it all turned out. That includes Melo himself.
But after four games of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals, it was a testament to how widespread the Knicks' problems were that public and media opinion split between faulting Anthony and faulting his lack of support.
There were plenty of faults to go around, of course. But with the season on the brink in Game 5 Thursday night, Anthony did what he does, coming out firing and assuming a burden no one else had been willing or able to shoulder.
That was good for the Knicks, who beat the Pacers, 85-75, at Madison Square Garden, with Anthony scoring 28 points and shooting 12-for-28 as he continued to battle through soreness in his left shoulder. He also had six rebounds.
This, though, was even better for the Knicks as they return to Indiana for Game 6 Saturday night: Lo and behold, Melo brought several of his teammates along with him, notably J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton and Kenyon Martin.
The unexpected bonus was a huge contribution from Chris Copeland, whom many fans had been clamoring to see more of, especially after coach Mike Woodson yanked him at a pivotal moment in Game 4. Wish granted. "We just came together as a team," Anthony said. "At the end of the day, the 15 guys in that locker room, that's what we have. We all believe at this point."
Anthony entered Game 4 having had a peculiar, uneven series, including what many interpreted as criticism from Tyson Chandler for playing selfishly. (Chandler said he was not talking about Anthony specifically.)
What everyone agreed on was that Anthony had to assert himself in the face of a team-wide drought, and so he did.
Anthony got things going by scoring the game's first five points as the Knicks took a 7-0 lead. He finished the first quarter with nine points, even if he did require 10 shots to get there. He added five points in the second, during which he forced a couple of shots and turned over the ball twice.
But Melo also had a nice reverse layup off a baseline drive and a big basket (after losing his headband) from 15 feet out 2.8 seconds before intermission.
By the third quarter, everyone else was fully involved, and Anthony found ways to contribute even with his shot off. His nifty pass to Martin set up a play on which Martin drew the fourth foul on the Pacers' Roy Hibbert.
Anthony's scoring pace slowed late in the game but he remained engaged, making a couple of key defensive plays. Then he made a pivotal fadeaway jumper with just over six minutes left after the Pacers had climbed to within 75-71.
That was one of two baskets in six tries in the final quarter, which was much better than his combined 0-for-7 from the field in the fourth quarters of the two losses in Indianapolis.
Anthony said his goal was to play aggressively, in part to get the Pacers into foul trouble. Yup: Paul George, his primary defender and the Pacers' best player, picked up his fifth foul with 91/2 minutes left.
"Tonight was just one of those days where you have to leave it out there on the basketball court," Anthony said.
In Game 5, he suddenly got it -- as he had for most of the regular season. All the Knicks need now is two more nights like that and they will be boarding a plane to Miami on Tuesday.