There were the Celtics, shaking off an early barrage of picture-perfect jumpers by , shadowing the into the final six minutes before , on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
There was Anthony, bullied by the Celtics in the second half, held without a field goal, and a dubious souvenir: a bloody welt above the left eye, courtesy of a collision with Rondo as he leapt, unsuccessfully, for a steal.
Somehow, you knew that Anthony didn’t envision endings like this one during his sweet dreams of New York.
Forcing the to deal him to the Knicks always seemed like the prudent move for Anthony, one of the ’s glamour gunners. The Knicks were hungry to double their star power after landing Amar’e Stoudemire last summer. Anthony was eager for a bigger stage than Denver, and outside of Los Angeles, where could he get more visibility than in his native city?
But the flip side of greater visibility is enhanced scrutiny. Whereas Anthony was celebrated in football-crazed Denver as a cold-eyed gunslinger, his new home may inevitably dwell on what he isn’t, or has yet to show himself as during his brief opening on Broadway.
Did Anthony realize that coming home would require him to prove he is a player who lifts up others and helps establish the intangible qualities that define a championship-caliber team? With the arrival of the Celtics came the perfect examples of those who put their hands together and demonstrated an understanding and acceptance of what that gesture was supposed to mean.
“I think you get a lot of young players who say they want to win, and they do, but want to win as long as it’s comfortable for them,” , the Celtics’ coach, said before the game. “But very few players want to get out of their comfort zone to win.”
He was only speaking generally, but after a recent stretch in which a appeared to be an example of what was ailing the slumping Knicks rather than being their prized solution, Rivers’s point seemed apropos.
What did he mean by comfort zone? Better to let Ray Allen, one-third of Boston’s so-called Big Three, explain the transition he made with the Celtics in 2007, for Seattle the previous season.
“Truly you cannot try to come to a team like this and try to win on your terms,” he said. “I know because I know when I went from Milwaukee to Seattle, there was a space open for me; like there were 25 points, 6-7 rebounds, 5 or 6 assists, based on the void that left.
“But here, that void was no longer there, where I needed to shoot the ball 19 to 23 times. So you have to temper how you pick and choose the shots you are going to get, and how else you can help win a game. Now, I might have to set a good screen, or get a big rebound or make a sharp cut so someone else can go down the lane for a layup or be open for a 3. But that’s winning on this team’s terms, not on my terms.”
Allen, of course, was not alone in making such statistical sacrifices. and each dropped just under 4 fewer points a game that season along the road to the Celtics’ 17th (and most recent) N.B.A. title.
Not to put the Knicks’ 7-9 record since the trade all on Anthony — because there are numerous unresolved issues that include the question of Coach ’s commitment to making defense a priority — but it is fair to wonder just what they have purchased for $65 million.
Will Anthony make the full adjustment to D’Antoni’s motion offense, or will he resort to forcing jumpers when the pressure mounts in a tight game, as he did Monday?
Is he willing to make the aforementioned hard cut as a decoy not just because the play dictates he must but also because he is capable of experiencing the thrill of clearing out space for a teammate to succeed? Is he ready to play with passion every quarter, every night, on both ends, and plant championship seeds that will flower in spring?
N.B.A. stars soar, dunk and rain 3-pointers for the highlight shows, but Allen said playing for the Celtics was like “being on a football team, being a lineman, one of the workhorses.”
He had his own badge of honor afterward, having taken a Jared Jeffries elbow above the eye. Allen left a game the Knicks were seemingly in control of, at least for a half, then returned bandaged but unbowed to join hands with what is now the Big Four, Rondo included.
“When you see chemistry, it’s always judged basically in the fourth quarter, executing on both ends of the floor,” Allen said.
We saw exactly that from the Celtics down the stretch Monday night. And from Anthony and the Knicks, we saw surrender after the body blows landed. Lights out. Sweet dreams.