Belief in Melo Pays Off on Road


Don’t ignore the choice of words Carmelo Anthony used after he turned an ugly game into a critical win for the Knicks with just two plays. “My coach,” he said, “believed in me.”

After 13 seasons in the NBA, you’d think he’d be well beyond the need for someone to believe in him. But Melo was in a 15-for-59 slump over three games and sat through a film session that exposed some poor shot choices in Monday’s loss to the Thunder.

Melo had also been 4-for-15 in the game up until that point. When the Knicks broke from their huddle before their final offensive possession, coach Jeff Hornacek paused for a brief word with the nine-time all-star. A few seconds later, the Knicks had a two-point lead thanks to a trademark shot by Melo. A quick jab caused T-Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins to move his feet, which cleared just enough space in that split second for Melo to get off a shot.

Then at the other end, Melo deflected Minnesota’s inbound attempt to stop any possibility of the T-Wolves getting off a shot to win the game. So a game-winner and a defensive play in the final two seconds following an otherwise subpar performance.

Did anyone see that coming?

“We always believe in Melo,” Kristaps Porzingis said.

Most might have expected Porzingis — who was 11-for-20 with 29 points — to get that last shot. He and fellow 2015 draft classmate Karl-Anthony Towns (47 points, 18 rebounds) battled throughout the game. But it was Melo’s show to close and KP — who had a game-winner taken away by video review last season in Charlotte — was fine with it.

“My time will come,” he said.

This game was some evidence of Melo allowing Porzingis’ time to come within the offense. He only took five shots in the first half and deferred a lot early on. He said he was trying to “play within the flow,” which has been a mantra of the coaching staff. For a player who is so used to isolation plays, this is a major adjustment.

Wally Szczerbiak, Alan Hahn and Bill Pidto discuss Carmelo Anthony's game-winning shot and his defensive play on Minnesota's final inbound of the game.

With injuries to Joakim Noah (ankle) and Courtney Lee (injured ankle in the first quarter), the Knicks got a huge lift from the bench, which provided 43 points. Mindaugas Kuzminskas had a career-high 14 points and went 4-of-5 from three-point range, while Brandon Jennings had 12 points and 7 assists. Hornacek also opted to finish the game with Jennings running the point with Derrick Rose (11 points, 2 assists in 23 minutes) on the bench.

Another unsung hero was rookie Marshall Plumlee, who played 20 rugged minutes off the bench and had four points — including his first NBA basket — and 5 rebounds. He was a plus-11 and provided a much-needed physical presence a game after the Knicks felt they were “manhandled” by the Thunder.

“Marshall,” Hornacek said, “gave us a huge lift.”

The Knicks (9-9) won their second road game of the season. They finish the home-and-home with Minnesota on Friday at The Garden.

We’ll have the pregame coverage at 7 p.m. on MSG. Find out where Towns’ 47-point performance ranks in T-Wolves history and how it compares to Wally Szczerbiak‘s career-best effort in that franchise’s history.