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Carmelo rocks house on first night

Carmelo Anthony communicating with his teammates. (Feb. 23,

Carmelo Anthony communicating with his teammates. (Feb. 23, 2011) Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The lights went down at the Garden at 7:39 last night, and with them any notion of buyer's remorse on the part of the Knicks or their fans.

As a highlight video played to a pulsating soundtrack - the several recently departed Knicks carefully excised - the old place rocked and the tone was set.

It was a raucous, only-in-New York welcoming party for Carmelo Anthony, one that made the debate over the price the team paid for him seem distant, and beside the point.

Not that all went smoothly en route to the Knicks' 114-108 win.

Anthony's shooting touch was off much of the night and the Knicks - including Amar'e Stoudemire - looked disjointed, sapping the crowd's early juice until the final, decisive minutes.

That was when Anthony took over, recharging the building. He drove for a dunk that made it 106-100 with 1:18 left and added a nifty jumper in the lane put the Knicks ahead 108-102 with 26.8 seconds remaining.

Everyone around the Knicks warned this chemistry experiment would take time, and the mostly center-less squad certainly is an unconventional construction.

So far, all we know is this: For one evening at the World's Most Famous Arena, it was a good night to be a Knick.

That was clear from the fans, who cheered a putback lay-in by Anthony 2:24 into the first quarter as it were a game-winner, then did the same 22 seconds later for Chauncey Billups' three.

It was clear from Anthony, who spent his pregame news conference producing a series of gushing sound bites. "I feel like I'm still dreaming right now," he said. "I'm ready to get down to business." "I think New York needed a moment like this." And finally, this: "I'm pretty sure if any of you guys were GMs or owners you'd want me and Amar'e on the same team as well."

(He also offered a cringe-worthy echo of you-know-who's Decision of last July: "New York was the place to bring my talent."

It also was clear from Anthony's wife, La La Vazquez, who excitedly told MSG's Jill Martin - and the Garden crowd - about 'Melo's cooking skills during a halftime interview . . . as he and his teammates warmed up.

Even MSG's Walt Frazier got into the spirit, breaking out his new tiger-patterned jacket.

The happiest person in the building, though, might have been Garden chairman James Dolan, a key architect of the Anthony trade.

When Bob Tisch bought into the Giants in 1991, Wellington Mara warned him about the harsh math of sports ownership, telling him he would have to wait 30 years for 10 years' worth of enjoyment.

So it has gone for Dolan over the past decade, a long struggle to return the Knicks to playoff relevance and the Garden to its 1990s vibe. Last night that moment seemed at hand as Dolan stood, beaming, between Anthony and Stoudemire.

Dolan has not answered basketball questions from reporters in four years, but he did forcefully try to set the record straight about the circumstances surrounding the Anthony deal.

First Dolan said that he, team president Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D'Antoni were "coordinated'' throughout, adding, "The idea that we were not in agreement is simply not true."

So it was a night for clearing the air, and also for making this clear: While there is much work left to do, there is much anticipation surrounding the men assigned to do it.

When Anthony went to the line for the clinching free throws with 11.4 seconds left, the crowd chanted, "Melo, Melo."

As the guest of honor said before the game: "I'm excited, man."


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