The journey has raised his profile over the past 16 months, providing Anthony with the notoriety of playing on basketball’s grandest stage, Madison Square Garden, and the publicity of noted guest appearances on some of his favorite television shows. But the move also made his shortcomings more pronounced, with his inability to elevate the Knicks and his continued postseason failures raising questions about his perceived status as an elite player.
“It’s been up and down, but for the most part, I don’t regret my decision to want to come here,” Anthony said on Saturday, as the Knicks prepare for Game 4 of their first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat. “It’s been a year and a half and things haven’t gone the way we wanted to go, but we still have time. I’m not worried about that. I love my decision. I stick with my decision.”
Anthony grew up in Baltimore, but came to the city where he was born to be a hero. Thus far, his efforts have been hollow. The Knicks are one loss away from getting swept from the postseason for the second year in a row and extending a 13-game losing streak — dating from April 29, 2001 — that is the longest in playoff history.
Anthony has only been around for seven of those losses, but they have been enough to give him the worst winning percentage of any player to make at least 50 playoff appearances in the past 20 years (16-36, .308).
This series against the Heat — featuring two players he considers his peers in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — has been disastrous for Anthony. He is averaging 21 points, shooting just 34.4 percent (22 for 64), has 12 turnovers to just six assists, and the Knicks have been outscored by a total of 60 points in three defeats.
“Not winning at all. It hurts. I go home at night, I think about that,” said Anthony, who has lost 13 of his past 15 playoff games and is on the verge of being swept for the third time in the past five years. “We still believe we can win a game. If we don’t go out there with confidence [for Sunday’s Game 4], we might as well not go out there at all.”
Anthony has only advanced beyond the first round once in eight previous postseason trips, but in his defense, he also has had the benefit of home-court advantage in just two first-round series, as the best player on some so-so Nuggets teams. In New York, the Knicks have scrapped into the playoffs and Anthony has rarely had the benefit of playing with a full complement of talent.
When the Boston Celtics swept the Knicks last season, Anthony had to finish the series with Amare Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups out with injury. And this season, the team has been struck with several maladies — some fluky, some self-inflicted.
Tyson Chandler came down with the flu before Game 1. Iman Shumpert tore ligaments in his left knee in a 100-67 opening defeat that stands as the franchise’s worst playoff loss in 21 years. Baron Davis has been having back and hamstring problems. One-time sensation Jeremy Lin has been out since late March after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Stoudemire — the Knicks’ other all-star talent with whom Anthony has never developed chemistry — suffered a lacerated left hand when he angrily smashed the glass casing around a fire extinguisher while leaving the floor after a Game 2 loss. Stoudemire will attempt to play on Sunday in Game 4 and even had a sense of humor about the unfortunate mishap that has made him fodder for the back pages of New York’s tabloids.
After the Knicks lost 87-70 on Thursday in a game that they once led by 11, Stoudemire said he warned his angry teammates to remain calm as they entered the locker room, telling them, “Don’t hit nothing.”
Anthony was noticeably flustered and on an island in Game 3, when little worked in his favor and he missed 16 of 23 shots under the harassing defense of James and Shane Battier. He got in a tussle for a loose ball and picked up a technical foul when he shoved Battier into the floor. Later, he wandered around aimlessly, searching for a foul in vain after he drove and had his headband knocked off.
“I try not to put pressure on myself and go out there and play like that,” Anthony said. “Do I want to win? Hell, yeah, I want to win. It’s tough out there. It’s no excuses, no complaints, despite injuries and things like that. I’ve never made an excuse about that.”
Anthony has shot less than 50 percent from the field in nine straight playoff games, and worse than 31 percent in five of his past nine. But as the centerpiece of a franchise, with a maximum salary, Anthony was brought to New York to at least win some playoff games, if not make the Knicks relevant in May or June.
“Expectations are not going to change here in New York, and they shouldn’t, rightfully so,” said Knicks interim coach Mike Woodson, who replaced Mike D’Antoni after D’Antoni lost a power struggle with Anthony. “Melo is going to have to raise his game.”
Anthony was the last Knicks player on the court on Saturday, taking and making jumpers from all corners, as assistant general manager Allan Houston rebounded. Dressed in his usual, all-black practice gear, Anthony was possibly preparing for the funeral of another lost season. He has what he wanted and isn’t looking back.
“I’m in New York. I’m a New York Knick. I’m going to be here,” Anthony said with a grin, before walking away.