Melo Catches Fire, But Knicks Falter in Final Moments

WIZARDS 113, KNICKS 110

The greatness that still exists within Carmelo Anthony exploded in an array of jump shots through a torrid second quarter that may have ironically set the Knicks up for yet another frustrating failure.

Think about it, it’s hard to imagine the Knicks are even in the game at halftime — let alone leading by one — without Melo’s franchise-record 25-point outburst in that second quarter. He made 10 of 12 shots in the quarter and had scored 16 straight points during one amazing segment.

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This was in the wake of learning he will not be a starter for the East All-Star team for the first time since he was traded to the Knicks in 2011. It was also in the midst of a heated exchange with a fan courtside at the Garden who was barking at Melo.

“He’s a Knicks fan,” Carmelo said, “I don’t think he was a Melo fan, though.”

These days it seems the two are almost as much at odds as those on opposite sides of the political landscape in our country.

For one stretch of the game, it was vintage Melo; an explosive scorer who makes tough shots look easy and electrifies The Garden like only a star can. Then came the final two possessions of the game, which only fueled the frustration a lot of Knicks fans have when those tough shots he takes, fail to go in at the most critical times.

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The Knicks trailed by 14 points going into the fourth quarter, but charged back into the game by outscoring the Wizards 24-9 over 11:28 of the 12-minute quarter. They led 110-109 when Melo reached in and fouled John Wall on a drive as Wall blew right by defensive pressure by Brandon Jennings. Melo reached as he tried to stay in position to cover his man, Kelly Oubre, sitting in the corner waiting for a kick-out.

Kristaps Porzingis was coming over to help on Wall, but the foul was called on Melo as he slapped Wall on the forearm. Wall sank two free throws with 32 seconds left to give the Wizards a one-point lead and the Knicks came down the court with a timeout in their pocket and a chance to regain the lead.

That’s when things fell apart.

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The way Jeff Hornacek described it, the play at that point was for Derrick Rose to get the ball and run another pick-and-roll set with Kristaps Porzingis. On the previous possession, Rose curled off a Porzingis screen, took the ball and drove to the basket. He missed the layup, but got the rebound and scored to give the Knicks an 110-109 lead.

Hornacek wanted to go back to that scenario again. But rather than go to Rose and KP’s side, Jennings brought the ball up on the left side of the court, where Melo went to set a down-screen on Courtney Lee and then popped out. He took the ball and went one-on-one with Otto Porter, who stayed in front of him. As Melo was unable to get around Porter, he settled for a step-back jumper from 17 feet.

There was 11 seconds left on the shot clock and 20.2 left on the game clock.

The bigger issue was that no one was in rebounding position.

Another issue was that Melo’s shot hit the back rim and took a hard bounce right to the middle of the court, where Wall awaited. Only Jennings was in his way and with one crossover dribble, Jennings was suddenly in the rear-view mirror.

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One of the fastest players in the NBA was a blur and in just four seconds he dunked the basketball for a three-point lead.

After the game, Hornacek’s voice trailed off as he tried to explain what happened on that play. Clearly, it wasn’t by design.

“Melo thought he had the matchup,” he said.

There was still one more moment for redemption. The Knicks had 13.7 seconds to score and foul, or attempt a three for the tie.

Jennings inbounded the ball to Melo, who was defended by Markieff Morris. Seven seconds went off the clock as Melo dribbled against Morris until he finally got by him toward the basket. As he entered the paint, he drew the attention of Oubre and made the right pass: a kick out to Courtney Lee in the corner.

There were 5.6 seconds left on the clock.

Lee had plenty of time for a catch and shoot for a game-tieing three. But for some reason, he hesitates. Afterward, Lee said Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe was shouting while standing on the court. Replays show Lowe had one foot on the court but was behind Lee.

“I thought it was one of their players,” Lee said.

The NBA’s Last 2 Minute Report, which is released the day after games, stated that Lowe should have been assessed a technical foul for his actions. Lowe was fined $5,000 and the Wizards were fined $15,000 for “potentially impacting game action” in last night’s game.

Kristaps Porzingis shares how he felt in his return to the court, while Kyle O’Quinn and Derrick Rose give their thoughts on dropping another close game to Washington.

It was surprising to see Lee pump fake and dribble in that situation as Oubre ran out at him. Lee kicked it out to Jennings, who also inexplicably pump-faked as Wall closed out. Wall slapped the ball away and time expired.

Lee talked about the distraction by Lowe as an issue, but said what everyone watching was thinking.

“I still should have taken the shot,” he said.

Plays like that are why Melo so often prefers to take those last-second shots rather than pass. Remember last season in San Antonio, when he passed out to Jose Calderon for a game-winning three and Calderon missed? Remember in the playoffs against the Celtics in 2011 when he passed to Jared Jeffries for what should have been a wide-open layup for the win?

But the ball is always in his hands in these situations. It’s been that way since he arrived in 2011. The Knicks have lived and died with his shots and his decisions in crunch time.

It was a game that provided a microcosm of Melo’s time as a Knick: a thrilling rush of torrid scoring, a maddening choice to break the play for iso-ball and then the right play turning into a critical miss. Melo finished with 34 points and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes. He sits 8th on the Knicks all-time scoring list and put his name in the franchise record books yet another time with that 25-point second quarter performance, which eclipsed Allan Houston and Willis Reed, who each posted highs of 24 points in a quarter during their careers.

The Knicks (19-25) were unable to build off the encouraging win in Boston, but the effort level continues to remain high over the last five games. The Knicks search for their 20th win of the season Saturday against the Phoenix Suns at the Garden. We’ll have the pregame coverage on Knicks Game Night starting at 7 p.m. on MSG Network.