As the fourth quarter opened up in Atlanta on Wednesday night, there was one question on everyone's mind.
Could Carmelo Anthony score 50 for the second straight night?
The set-up looked as perfect as any could get for such a remarkable back-to-back performance. It was a tie game through three quarters, Anthony had 36 points thanks to another night of brutally efficient shooting and Bernard King was in the stands sending the vibes of a rare man who knows what it is like to drop 50 in consecutive games.
With the Phillips Arena overwhelmingly in the corner of the Knicks, the Hawks were the only people in the building who didn't want to see Anthony make a little bit of history and they did everything they could to stop him when he returned to the game after a brief rest to start the quarter. The problem for the Hawks was that Anthony and the Knicks were interested in making a different sort of history.
They wanted their first 10-game winning streak since the 1993-94 season and got it by letting others do the heavy lifting down the stretch. A 68-68 game at the start of the fourth turned into a 95-82 Knicks win because Anthony was content to play the decoy and facilitator for his teammates.
Raymond Felton scored 10 points in the final quarter on a variety of easy drives through a paint left wide open by a Hawks defense that seemed to think Anthony was the only threat worth taking seriously. J.R. Smith chipped in 10 more points, including a thundering dunk off an Anthony feed out of a double team that punctuated the victory.
The offense was matched by a defense that finally closed out on Kyle Korver from three after ignoring him for the first 36 minutes and shut down a Hawks team that seemed all too willing to go down with a loss once things started getting tough. That wouldn't make for a bad first-round opponent come playoff time.
Anthony settled for four points, giving him 40 for the night and a still-impressive 90 points (and mind-boggling 35-of-53 shooting) over the last two victories. One of the most remarkable developments of this endlessly fascinating Knicks season has been the way Anthony's seamless fit into an offense with increased ball movement has done nothing to make him a less imposing scorer.
It's the sort of thing that makes all the sense in the world as good passing and sound spacing obviously lead to better shots at every turn, but it's always been taken for granted that Anthony's a volume scorer who cares first and last about being a volume scorer. We're not sure what else he needs to do to put the nail in that coffin this year, but if eschewing a shot at 50 points to move the Knicks closer to a division title doesn't do it for you than nothing's going to do it for you.