Posted Apr 19 2011 10:09AM
BOSTON -- The spotlight is on Carmelo Anthony.
The spotlight has always been on Carmelo Anthony. But now it is even more so after his miss Sunday in the final seconds capped a 1-for-11 second half as his New York Knicks lost, 87-85, to the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of their first round series. The spotlight grows even hotter with Chauncey Billups, the Knicks' point guard, expected to miss Tuesday's Game 2 (7 p.m. ET, TNT) with a strained left knee.
The Knicks are not going to win this series if Anthony doesn't have a few big games. Amar'e Stoudemire almost carried them to a win on Sunday, but he needs help, especially if the Celtics continue to deny the high-post entry pass and limit his touches as they did at the end of Game 1.
In Anthony's 28 total games with the Knicks, they're 11-5 when he shoots 44 percent or better and 3-9 when he shoots worse. Anthony knows he has to shoot better. But he's not stressing over his Sunday struggles.
"I couldn't buy a bucket last night," Anthony said after practice on Monday, "especially in the second half. Shots were going in and out. Shots were short. But as far as that goes, I know I can make those shots. It's just a matter of them not going in, putting a little more legs into it. They're the same shots that I wanted to take. They just didn't go in ..."
The Celtics' defense had something to do with that, consistently contesting Anthony's jumpers. They were the second-best defense in the league, arguably at their best when defending players who rely heavily on isolations. And when he has help behind him, Paul Pierce is one of the league's best defenders at the small forward position. He's had success in neutralizing LeBron James in postseasons past.
The Celtics have done a pretty good job in defending Anthony since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived in Boston. Over the last four seasons (including Sunday's Game 1), Anthony has shot just 42.5 percent against Boston. Only three teams have held him to a lower percentage.
Still, Anthony had managed to be relatively efficient in his previous 14 games against the Celtics because he attempted 10 free throws per 40 minutes, 1.4 more than his career average. This season, he ranked eighth in the league in free-throw attempts per minute.
On Sunday, he attempted just four free throws in 34 minutes of playing time.
Anthony's ability to get to the line will be a key for the Knicks in Game 2. When asked Monday about Anthony's Game 1 performance, the Celtics seemed ready for him to play better.
"With a great player like Carmelo, you can't anticipate him shooting the ball the way he did last game," Pierce said. "Our awareness level has to be up to where he is on the court. Just like most scorers' mentality when they shoot the ball they really come in aggressive the next game."
The only concern for New York may be whether Anthony will forsake his teammates in order to get himself going. The Knicks are at their best when they keep the ball moving until they find an open man.
That wasn't the case on many occasions on Sunday, especially on the final possession, when Anthony looked to be the hero instead of passing the ball back to Toney Douglas, who had given the Knicks the lead with a 3-pointer just 35 seconds earlier. Douglas was wide open at the top of the key when Anthony let his final shot fly.
Anthony's has a history of making clutch shots, though. And Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni wasn't about to question his new star's shot selection when prompted on Monday.
"I trust him," D'Antoni said. "He has the freedom to make a play. That's what he does. That's what Amar'e does. He'll make a play and I'll live with whatever he thinks is the best play to make."
Tuesday brings another opportunity for the Knicks to live or die with how well their star performs. The spotlight is on.
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