For three and a half quarters, it looked like Sunday afternoon was going to be very kind to Carmelo Anthony once again.
A week after dropping 43 on the Bulls in an overtime win, Anthony was shooting the lights out once again and had his undermanned Knicks squad up by four over a Miami team that had all of its pieces in place.
Anthony had 39 points at that point and the Knicks were leading 79-75 when he hit J.R. Smith for a fast break dunk with just over eight minutes to play at a raucous Garden. The prospect of a first round date with Miami felt a lot less daunting at that moment because there wasn't much that felt daunting when talking about a Knicks team led by a player playing as well as Anthony has played over the last few weeks.
It wouldn't last. The Heat closed the game on an 18-6 run as they stepped up their defense on Anthony, no other Knicks stepped into the void and the LeBron James/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh trio showed that having multiple offensive options at your disposal is far better than having the best player on the court if he isn't going to have any help.
The Knicks offense got very stagnant and isolation heavy in the final minutes, which will naturally lead some of those who cheered Anthony last Sunday to jeer him this time around. The big flaw in Anthony this time seems to be that the tough, contested shots he hit against Chicago didn't go in against Miami.
To those people, we'll ask who else was supposed to be getting the ball at the most significant moment of the game. Anthony was the best Knicks option Sunday because he was essentially their only option.
Knicks not named Anthony shot 17-of-46 from the floor on Sunday and the only other Knicks to finish in double figures was Smith. Argue all you want that the Knicks need better ball movement, because they do, but Anthony was moving the ball plenty on Sunday and watched a lot of Knicks fail to take advantage as a result.
When the Knicks play their best lineups, there is no point guard on the floor and Smith is the most reliable second option. You should be enjoying a hearty laugh at the placement of Smith so close to reliable in the same sentence, but it's true and it reared its ugly head down the stretch.
James deserves much credit for stepping up the defense on Anthony at just the right moment -- Melo was limited to one three-pointer over those final eight minutes of the 93-85 loss -- but the loss had a lot more fathers than that.
There was a smart Heat offensive plan that drew Tyson Chandler away from the hoop to create copious offensive rebounds, there were nine missed free throws by the Knicks and, again, there was the fact that absolutely no one else stepped up their offensive games.
This might well have been a different game if Amar'e Stoudemire was on the court, although it may have also meant easier chances for Miami to score at the other end. The one biggest plus to having Anthony and Amar'e together is that Stoudemire can succeed without the ball in his hands, something that isn't true of enough of the Knicks currently on the court.
Sunday's loss wasn't a disaster, but it was a clear reminder that one-man shows aren't always going to work out, even when the star brings a performance that leaves you gobsmacked at his ability. Stoudemire needs to help make it more of an ensemble production, especially since math makes a few more games against Miami a very likely outcome to the regular season.