It was not beginning to feel a lot like Christmas at Madison Square Garden halfway through the fourth quarter on Sunday evening.
The Knicks were trailing the Timberwolves as the defensive breakdowns and offensive stagnation from Friday night's loss to the Bulls continued to drag the team down. A third loss in four home games loomed a few minutes away and a road trip that starts Christmas Day in L.A. was just behind that, leaving the Knicks in need of a hero or even Santa Claus to make life a little better.
They got the hero. Carmelo Anthony scored the team's final 12 points of the game, erasing the Minnesota lead and lifting the Knicks to a 94-91 win that left everyone in the Garden chanting "MVP" to close out the game.
Calling it an MVP-type performance was not much of a stretch at all. Anthony grabbed the lead with a three and then a three-point play on a drive before hitting six free throws to ice the game at the line for the 20th Knicks win of the season.
Starting MVP talk right now is still premature, but we can at least recognize the kinds of performances that push players into the discussion. Anthony's work in saving the Knicks on Sunday night from a loss they certainly deserved qualifies as just that kind of a performance.
It was quite a change from Friday night's 110-106 loss to the Bulls, when Anthony spent the crucial part of the fourth quarter in the locker room after being ejected for picking up a pair of technical fouls. The Knicks rallied to make a game of it after trailing by large margins most of the night, but their chances of finishing off a comeback were never great without Anthony to put the ball in the hoop.
No "MVP" chants for that and, for a moment, it seemed that there would be none on Sunday night either. Anthony picked up his fifth foul just before his scoring explosion on a truly abysmal call by the referees, the kind of abysmal call that set off the Knicks on Friday night as Anthony, Mike Woodson and Tyson Chandler all were ejected for various malfeasance in a game that an incompetent officiating crew allowed to get totally out of hand.
Worse than that, the Knicks allowed it to get out of hand to continue a trend from losses earlier this season. When games get a little physical (both Chicago losses and the Memphis loss), the Knicks start begging for calls and, when they don't get them, they turn on the waterworks while watching the other team run away with the game.
It's a bad habit and there are two guys who can stop it from happening. Woodson is one, although his technical after that fifth foul on Anthony Sunday evening doesn't bode well on that front.
Anthony, on the other hand, smiled that massive grin of his before adjusting his headband and saving the day. You can't be the MVP if you aren't on the floor at the end of games, something Anthony seemed to figure out between Friday and Sunday, and something that made all the difference for the Knicks.
The game against the Lakers will decide just how merry a Christmas the Knicks will have this year, but the Knicks and their fans should be pretty thrilled even before Santa comes to pay them a visit. There's an MVP candidate under the tree and there's no assembly required before you can enjoy all of the fun things he can do.