Carmelo Anthony saw the Knicks jerseys in the stands, heard the cheers, and felt right at home.
”It was a great Knicks atmosphere out there tonight,” he said.
It always was whenever Knicks played across the Hudson River.
Anthony scored 21 of his 33 points in the first quarter, and the Knicks beat the Nets 104-95 on Wednesday night in their last trip to New Jersey.
Continuing his torrid stretch without Amare Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin, Anthony hit his first six shots in front of the usual pro-New York crowd that will become an all-New York crowd next season, when the Nets move to Brooklyn.
The Nets once hoped to have Anthony in the lineup when they got there and he is showing why lately, surpassing 30 points for the third straight game and the sixth time in nine games this month. He shot 11 of 21, going 5 of 7 on 3-pointers, and finished slightly ahead of the NBA-best 32.1 points he was averaging in April.
”He’s playing unbelievable right now,” center Tyson Chandler said. ”He’s playing, if not the best, definitely in the tops right now, as far as individual basketball.”
Chandler added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Knicks, who won for the 15th time in 20 games under interim coach Mike Woodson and remained in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
Gerald Wallace scored 21 points in his return to the starting lineup after missing four games with a strained left hamstring for the Nets, who were still without All-Star guard Deron Williams because of a sore right calf.
Mike Bibby had eight points and eight assists for the Knicks in place of Baron Davis, who sat out with a stomach virus.
Anthony followed LeBron James’ spectacular finish here Monday, when he scored Miami’s final 17 points in the last five minutes, with a start that was nearly as good.
The All-Star forward made his first six shots, including three 3-pointers, the crowd cheering louder with each as he nodded his head and stuck out his tongue in enjoyment of how easily it was coming. The Knicks’ lead reached 21 on his three-point play with 2:02 remaining in the period, and the Nets needed the last basket of the quarter to make it 38-22 and avoid being outscored by Anthony.
It was 64-47 at halftime, but Anthony didn’t get the same help he had Tuesday against Boston, when JR Smith and Novak combined for 15 of the Knicks’ 19 3-pointers, and the offense stalled in the third quarter.
The Nets outscored the Knicks 24-14 in the period, limited New York to just 4-of-17 shooting, and got as close as five before heading to the fourth down 78-71.
Nets coach Avery Johnson thought the Nets did a much better job against Anthony after his explosive start.
”He was phenomenal in the first quarter. I think he hit two or three shots from half court,” Johnson said. ”He got them off to a great start but when Anthony went out the game I thought our second unit, some of our subs did a really good job against their bench and then we got back into the game. We did a good job of guarding Anthony in the second half.”
Smith and Novak finally got going in the fourth, combining for 15 of New York’s first 16 points as the Knicks regained control before the crowd chanted ”Let’s go Knicks! Let’s go Knicks!”
The fans, many wearing Knicks jerseys, later saluted Anthony with ”MVP! and ”Melo!” chants.
”It felt like a home game for us,” Anthony said. ”Most of the crowd was our fans, here in New Jersey, so it didn’t really feel like a road game for us.”
The Nets are used to it, and Wallace, playing in his first Nets-Knicks game, said he had similar experiences in the NBA.
”You must (have) forgot I was (in) Charlotte for like seven years. The first three years it felt like we were somewhere,” he said. ”Every team we played it felt like we were in their city. That’s not a big thing. I’m kind of used to it.
”They’re a playoff team, we’re not. So obviously they’re going to have more fans and their fans are going to be more energetic than our fans.”
It was the usual Knicks-Nets game in New Jersey, where the scoreboard listed the Nets as the home team but there was no reason to believe it. It’s a short trip from New York across the Hudson River, and the Knicks fans’ have been all too happy to take it, one of the reasons the rivalry has always been in the Knicks’ favor.
The Nets had some success through the years, including sweeping the Knicks out of the 2004 playoffs, and dominated their cross-river rivals for a few years when Jason Kidd made the Nets one of the top teams in the East.
But the Knicks have owned the off-the-court battle, and scored the most recent and perhaps significant victory in February 2010, when Denver took their package instead of the Nets’ when they finally decided to move Anthony. Though it was long believed his preference was the Knicks, the Nets hoped he would be convinced to accept a trade to New Jersey if the Nuggets didn’t like what the Knicks were offering, knowing he needed to sign a new contract last season before a new collective bargaining agreement that was going to severely limit salaries.
The Nets rebounded from the disappointment by acquiring Williams the next day, but he insists he will test free agency this summer. His decision could determine whether the Nets arrive in Brooklyn with hopes of contending anytime soon.
Nets officials hope the move to the Barclays Center, scheduled to open in September, and its easy accessibility via a number of subway lines will help them establish a fan base that they never consistently count on in the Meadowlands or during their two years at the Prudential Center.
They will play their final game in New Jersey on Monday against Philadelphia.
Smith finished with 15 points for the Knicks. Sundiata Gaines, starting for Williams, finished with 18.
Notes: Stoudemire will work out Thursday with the expectation that he will return from a bulging disk in his back Friday against Cleveland. … Knicks reserve forward Jared Jeffries was a late scratch with a sore right knee. … The Nets are 1-7 without Williams this season.