Sunday provided the latest evidence about how much Carmelo Anthony has altered his game for the better this season.
The early start against the Pacers at the Garden seemed to catch both teams a little short on proper rest from Saturday night with rebounding enthusiasts serving as the biggest beneficiairies as the combined shooting percentage was way south of 40 percent. The chances of a smooth effort took a big hit early in the first when Jason Kidd got a gash on his head while getting fouled, leading to the first ever use in the NBA of a headband as medical device.
Everything was disjointed, and the smooth flow we've been accustomed to seeing from the Knicks was nowhere in sight. The defense and ball security were still there, though, which meant the Knicks only needed someone to provide them with just enough scoring to allow them to grab the win.
Anthony provided that. The 9-of-22 shooting for 26 points looks inefficient, but Melo rebounded a few of those misses before making shots or getting fouled, so the context of the numbers winds up looking much different.
It gets even better when you realize Anthony didn't have any turnovers and that he put in another full day of work on the defensive end of the floor. It didn't do much to make the 88-76 win any more aesthetically pleasing, but it did continue the transformation of Anthony from a guy who liked to play hero ball on offense to a guy who's just playing the hero.
The San Antonio game on Thursday night was the moment when it fully crystallized how different things were this year as Anthony didn't even take a shot in the fourth quarter while doing everything else the team needed to win the game. Everyone has always doubted that Anthony could be the best player on a contender, but the first eight games of this season have made a compelling case that he already is the best player on a contender.
An even surer sign of that is that Donnie Walsh, who's returned to Pacers, now gets and takes credit for the Anthony trade.
Back when things looked bleaker, it was pretty much universally agreed that James Dolan had forced Walsh to give up too much to get Anthony. Walsh never put up much of a fight about that line of thought, so getting patted on the back for it now is a pretty sweet turn of events for the former Knicks general manager.
Walsh deserves all the credit in the world for getting the Knicks out of cap hell and getting the assets (including Ray Felton, who also had a turnover-free performance on Sunday) in place to land Anthony, but you can't rewrite things enough to make him the driver of the Anthony deal now that he's the player everyone always wanted him to be. If it was on Dolan when things were going bad, it's on him now that things are going well.
Mostly, though, it's on Melo because the guy who tries to be the hero ultimately gets judged by his success or failure in that role. Sunday was another big win on that front.