The Knicks' season was on the brink. The Garden crowd was muttering nervously to itself. And Carmelo Anthony was facing another four long days of questions and doubters -- on TV, radio, Twitter and perhaps his own locker room.
Less than a quarter later, all of it had changed, suddenly, improbably, dramatically. And there was Melo, walking off the court Tuesday night to a raucous ovation in the late stages of a 105-79 win over the Pacers that evened the Eastern Conference semifinals at one game apiece.
What the heck happened?
A little bit of everything for the Knicks, whose 30-2 avalanche turned a 64-62 late-third-quarter deficit into a 92-66 lead, with contributions from every corner of the roster other than struggling J.R. Smith.
But it began with Anthony, who drove the lane aggressively to tie the score at 64, then drove it again for a dunk on which he was fouled. The three-point play made it 67-64 and the Knicks were off and running.
By the time the surge was over, Anthony had scored 16 points, including two three-pointers. He had 32 points and shot 13-for-26 from the field, the first time he has made 50 percent of his shots in eight playoff games.
Afterward, when a reporter tried to ask about the pressure Anthony must have been feeling to perform, he cut off the question and said, "I don't play with pressure. I can't. There is no way I can perform under pressure. I won't allow myself to do that mentally to go out there and play under pressure.''
He said, as he always does, that he will not shy from continuing to fire away. "I'm not concerned about my shot,'' he said. "I'm not concerned about that.''
Still, his outside shot is not at peak efficiency, so he found multiple other ways to help the cause, setting up teammates, keeping the ball moving, totaling nine rebounds and making assorted hustle plays, setting a tone that was in contrast to the team's somnambulant effort in Game 1.
Anthony continues to play through evident pain in his left shoulder, but it did not seem to hinder him in the latter stages of Game 2.
"Melo just caught fire,'' the Pacers' Paul George said. "He found opportunities and found mismatches and he was just being aggressive . . . I felt like we made it as difficult as we could, but that's why he's an elite player. He has the ability to make contested shots.''
Said Pacers coach Frank Vogel: "He's just a beast of an offensive player and a competitor on the defensive end. . . . We guarded him pretty well but he was great tonight.''
After the game Melo was in a playful mood, including when asked about the criticism Boston Globe reporter Gary Washburn has taken for voting for Anthony as MVP and denying LeBron James a unanimous vote.
"I don't know why he caught so much flak for that,'' he said, smiling. "He has the right to vote for whoever he wants. LeBron won the MVP. Why is everybody so mad that he didn't win unanimously? Thank you.''
Anthony certainly looked like an MVP Tuesday night, and will have to keep it up as the Knicks go to Indianapolis in need of a split to get back home-court advantage.
Expect Anthony to keep doing what he does. "I can't stop attacking,'' he said. "I can't stop being aggressive out there on the basketball court. I think I did a good job making some adjustments out there, just being patient.''
He and everyone else will require patience to get through the long break before Game 3. But by doing what he did in Game 2, Anthony ensured himself a far more peaceful, pleasant wait.