Having waited longer than he should have, the stink of his performance still lingering at Madison Square Garden, Carmelo Anthony appeared at last clad in black and wearing a smile as false and empty as his game.
The black stood for a funeral, but not the kind he and his tacky teammates had anticipated. It was a funeral for the idea Anthony has shed his postseason underachiever’s skin. A funeral for the notion these Knicks would roll into the second round full of confidence and possibility. A funeral, most surely, for tact and good sense.
So let’s start with that.
Before the game, Kenyon Martin had encouraged his teammates to arrive at the arena dressed in black for a Celtics “funeral.” Perhaps these jokers should have remembered that two weeks ago bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon that killed three people, injured 264 and damaged that city and this country. Perhaps they should have looked at Wednesday’s newspapers and noted that three more men had been arrested in connection with obstruction of justice in the case.
Since that awful day, sports has become for that city a touchstone to recovery and better days and the resilience we always show when the worst comes to us with a fury of hate and blood; since that awful day the notion of the dead and of any kind of funereal mood related to anything Boston took on a meaning and reminder that should have prevented this stupidity.
What were these guys thinking? What was Raymond Felton, still wearing all black when he appeared before the podium after the Celtics’ surprising win to keep the series alive, contemplating? What were 'Melo and Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith and the other players doing?
It was disrespectful. It was inappropriate. It was wrong-headed. And, even if you want to argue falsely that the two things are not connected – if you want to try to kid yourself that 16 days should be enough for a city to wipe away the blood and scars and pain and let another city mock its mourning – there’s still good sense. A minor clue by any of these players should have been enough to have put a stop to it.
But they didn’t have that. Or composure, especially after the game, when Boston's Jordan Crawford got lippy and some Knicks acted like spoiled kids. Or any real fire in a closeout game that a pretty poor Boston basketball team still won, 92-86. Or the kind of play from the Knicks’ key guys at a time of year when their team rising or falling rests with them.
The New York Knicks: A team that at the most obvious and important of moments serves up bad basketball and bad manners, to say the least.
Now, probably because of both, Boston heads home having closed the gap in the series to 3-2. They probably will not become the first NBA team to win a playoff series after going down 3-0, but it would be a sweet thing to behold if they did. Sweet for that city, for this country, and for a Knicks team that would get the basketball karma it deserves.
To keep that hope alive Wednesday night, Kevin Garnett muscled his way to 18 rebounds, giving him 52 over the past three games, and the Celtics made up for Paul Pierce’s 6-of-19 shooting night by logging five guys with at least 16 points.
And the Knicks? The guys who strolled onto their home turf dressed in black ready to bury Boston?
This was a game in which New York’s two “stars” combined to go 11 for 38. J.R. Smith missed his first 10 shots. In the two games the Knicks have had to close out the Celtics and win the team’s first playoff series in 13 years, Anthony has gone 18 for 59. That’s not a typo. Really. I checked.
Smith offered his own special kind of awfulness to that by finding a way to get himself banned from Game 4 by giving Jason Terry an elbow to the face before returning for Game 5 and making his fans wish he were still suspended.
This is also another huge stumble by Anthony, who has saddled himself with a career in which he and his supporters want to call him a top-3 player despite the fact he has advanced past the first round only one time in his career.
He is the NBA scoring leader, and he is a great athlete, but he is not yet what he purports to be. Stars shine in the postseason. Stars rise to the moment. Stars comfort themselves (usually) with dignity because they are the faces and fixtures of the league. Stars, at least, can close out a No. 7 seed like Boston at home in a big Game 5.
Remember, LeBron James was shredded two years ago for not being able to translate his skill into a title, and for his slew of insensitive and arrogant comments. I’d know. I was right there, pouring on the criticism, giving it where it seemed due.
So what does Carmelo Anthony deserve, if it turns out he can barely close out an over-the-hill Celtics team, if in these big moments he keeps shooting like some crazed chucker without a sense of the game or his own stroke, and if he’s the face and star of a team arrogant and tone-deaf enough to pull the funeral gimmick with Boston – then not at least have the basketball sense to win the game?
He deserves to be called a guy who is unreliable, weak, clueless and not to be relied on. LeBron figured it all out – his game, his life, his image, his sense of himself and his place in the game – and so you could argue 'Melo can too. And he can. But 'Melo ain’t LeBron on the court, and LeBron never did something as off-putting to my eyes as 'Melo and his teammates did Wednesday.
So there 'Melo was after the game, that fake grin plastered on his face as he took the podium, wearing all black. For a funeral. Still. Again.
Someone asked him about Crawford, who’d mouthed off to him after the game.
“I’m not thinking about no Jordan Crawford, not as this point and time, I’ll tell you that,” Anthony said. “ I don’t think he even deserves for you to be typing (about him) right now.”
I looked at 'Melo's line: 8 of 24 for 22 points.
I looked at his clothes: dressed for a funeral for an opponent representing a city that just buried three of its citizens and saw many, many more maimed and bloodied.
And I thought: There’s absolutely someone on that floor who doesn’t deserve for us to be typing about him, but it sure as hell isn’t Jordan Crawford.