Now that the Knicks have moved well beyond being a team that relies on Carmelo Anthony first, second or third, it has become a bit easier to forget just how reviled he was by so many people coming into this year.
One of the major progenitors of the anti-Melo movement is George Karl, his former coach in Denver and a man who never missed an opportunity to point out that Anthony had missed an opportunity. It became a thudding drumbeat before his trade to New York, but Karl always chose to slam the player rather than figure out a way to reach him as a coach.
Anthony hit back on Sunday night on the Garden. He scored 11 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter and the Knicks used a 17-2 run early in the fourth quarter to erase an eight-point Denver lead and turn in a 112-106 victory that kept them undefeated on the year.
It wasn't one of Anthony's most complete games of the year nor one of his most efficient, although you can blame the finger injury from last week that kept him out of two games for the latter and his clearly burning desire to beat Karl for both. That got in the way of the team game from time to time, especially when the Nuggets would put Danilo Gallinari and his Tintin haircut in front of him, but it showed just how much Karl got under Melo's skin.
If that had been the Knicks' only course of attack, that emotion could have backfired but it seemed to carry the team through the obvious fatigue they were feeling after getting delayed on their return to New York until the not so wee, small hours of Sunday morning. Anthony came on late, but so did Steve Novak, Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler and the Knicks got their win while Melo got some vindication.
The Nuggets have a lot of talent (Corey Brewer was pooh-poohed by Mike D'Antoni in a particularly bad bit of judgment) but they don't have the guy who can grab the game by its lapels when things are starting to spin out of control. The Knicks might be older and less athletic than Denver, but they've shown time and again this season that such a player is a very useful thing to have so long as you support him the right way.
Anthony's ability to be that guy has been debated, although another 20 games like the first 20 games could quiet the debate once and for all. The Knicks' depth is wonderful and the things Kidd have done for the team game are remarkable, but the presence of a superstar can't be underrated even a little bit.
It won't be the last time in the next week or so that Anthony's merits are under the spotlight. Tuesday brings a trip to Brooklyn and a rematch with Gerald Wallace after the Net forward shut down Anthony late and Thursday is a big night with the Lakers at the Garden.
D'Antoni wasn't confident enough to be fully open about his feelings when it came to Anthony, but there wasn't much need for explicit commentary as his final days unfolded last season. D'Antoni tried to save his job by pointing the fingers at Anthony and claiming Jeremy Lin could save the world, something that the Knicks did not buy into even a little bit.
And, finally, a week from Monday brings Lin back to New York for one more walk down bad memory lane for Anthony. Houston blew them out with minimal contribution from Lin on the road earlier this season, something that won't matter if the Knicks can hold serve at home and skewer one more bogeyman from Anthony's past in the process.
It's not all about Melo for the Knicks anymore and that's a very good thing in the big picture while also making it easier to enjoy the brief stretch when it is mostly about Melo's battle with the old narratives.