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Carmelo Anthony keeps Knicks afloat for big comeback, then struggles in the fourth

Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony looks to get past

Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony looks to get past Indiana Pacers forward Paul George during the first quarter of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinal. (May 18, 2013) Credit: AP

INDIANAPOLIS - History someday will judge Carmelo Anthony's playoff legacy. But for now, there is more than enough to chew over in the present after a game Saturday night that highlighted the best and worst of Melo.

Let's just say it's complicated.

For 2 1/2 quarters, he was close to a one-man team, scoring 31 of the Knicks' first 60 points to keep them within reach of the Pacers in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Then, when his supporting cast awoke and the Knicks stormed back from 12 down to make things interesting in the fourth quarter, Anthony lost his touch at the worst time.

End result: a 106-99 loss and an earlier-than-they-had-hoped-for end to the Knicks' season.

Anthony had 39 points, 15-for- 29 shooting and seven rebounds, a line that looks quite good on its face. But his numbers for the fourth quarter were ghastly: four points, 2-for-7 shooting with three key turnovers.

Everything that could go wrong did in a stretch that turned the game. Two lowlights:

With the Knicks ahead 92-90 and 5:04 left, Roy Hibbert blocked a dunk by Anthony at the rim, rousing the crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

"It was a hell of a block," Anthony said. "Big play by Hibbert. It kind of shifted the momentum a little bit at that point . . . That block I think spearheaded their momentum at the end."

Then, with the score tied at 92 and just under four minutes left, Lance Stephenson stole a pass by Melo, raced down the court, scored on a driving layup and was fouled. The three-point play made it 95-92, giving the Pacers the lead for good.

Stephenson, who grew up in Brooklyn, had 25 points (10-for-13 shooting), 10 rebounds and three assists.

Anthony, who spent his early childhood in Brooklyn, was left to ponder his 10th NBA season without reaching the Finals, and his ninth without getting past the second round.

Was the late fade related to fatigue? Anthony looked exhausted and deflated in the locker room, but he said: "No, no, I don't think it was fatigue. I don't think they made any adjustments. A couple of shots, I felt the ball was almost in."

So what went so wrong in the final minutes? "I really don't know," he said. "I have to sit back and think about that."

Anthony's not-so-grand finale will not go over well with fans, but let's be fair: Until his friends, led by Iman Shumpert, finally started making three-pointers in the third quarter, he was the only thing standing between the Knicks and a blowout loss.

"You watched the game; he had shots," coach Mike Woodson said. "He felt like he got hit on some shots and no calls. All we can do is put Melo in position to be successful."

The Pacers' Paul George, who had the primary defensive responsibility on him, said, "Once we kind of neutralized Melo a little bit, the whole thing shifted."

Anthony was among the least of the Knicks' concerns overall. J.R. Smith went out with yet another poor shooting night, 4-for-15. Raymond Felton was 0-for-7. Tyson Chandler again was outplayed by his counterpart, Hibbert.

And Jason Kidd still hasn't scored since April 23 -- and at age 40 might never score again.

So the question is how best to build a more consistent, playoff-ready, preferably younger support system around Anthony, who will be the Knicks' centerpiece for the foreseeable future.

For this season, though, it's over. No conference finals. No juicy, long-anticipated showdown with the Heat. A legacy still under construction.

"It's a disappointment," Anthony said. "But my career is far from over, so I'm not really too concerned about that. I still have a lot more time in this league."

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