Carmelo caught under unjust microscope

BY Sam Gardner • March 11, 2012

“Linsanity is dead, and Carmelo Anthony killed it.”

That’s the story that New York Knicks fans would like you to believe.

But in the wake of Sunday’s 106-94 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers — the Knicks’ fifth straight and seventh in nine games since Anthony returned to the lineup from a groin injury — it’s clear the problems plaguing the New York locker room are more than just one player.

There are a number of suspects in Linsanity’s death, and Anthony is chief among them. But Jeremy Lin has contributed as much to the Knicks’ spiral back into mediocrity as Anthony, and his stats Sunday showed as much: 14 points on 5-for-18 shooting, seven assists to six turnovers.

The fans who claimed these Knicks as their own during the height of New York’s February success have turned on their team as quickly as they bought into the Linsanity hype. These fans need someone to blame, and Anthony has been the fall guy. He set himself up for this when he forced his way from Denver to New York last year, and now he’s getting what he asked for from an unrelenting fan base that’s not OK with losing.

“I block it out,” Anthony said of the criticism, which he heard in the form of boos during pre-game introductions, a subtle message that morphed into a cacophony of hate as the Knicks’ deficit ballooned and Anthony failed to make a field goal in the final three quarters.

“I’m not concerned about that. I don’t worry about that,” Anthony continued. “Now is not the time to drop our heads and start thinking too much.”

Supporters have been hesitant to point the finger at anyone but Anthony during the Knicks’ slide — only pausing to occasionally call for head coach Mike D’Antoni job, as well — but the players in the New York locker room understand that there’s plenty of blame to go around.

“It’s a lot more than that,” said Tyson Chandler, who had eight points and 12 rebounds. “You win as a team and you lose as a team. He gets some unfair criticism because of the success that he’s had his entire career, and you’re going to live and fall by your sorrows. But it’s a full team here. We’re going to win and we’re going to lose together, and right now we’ve all got to play better.”

Though the fans might argue otherwise, Anthony was far from the main culprit in the Knicks’ latest loss. He scored 12 of his team-high 22 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the first quarter, and his play single-handedly kept the Knicks afloat early as Philly's Lou Williams and Evan Turner combined for 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

After sitting for his regular rest at the beginning of the second quarter, Anthony returned to a 40-36 Knicks lead with 5:14 left in the half, and on Anthony’s first possession back, Williams hit an open jumper to cut the lead to two.

An Andre Iguodala layup tied the game at 40, and the next three Knicks possessions all ended in turnovers — one each from Baron Davis, Landry Fields and Lin — as the Sixers’ lead ballooned to five. Another Lin turnover later in the quarter (his third of the half) allowed Philadelphia to push its lead to six.

In the third quarter, Anthony scored a team-high eight points from the line while the Sixers made a close game a laugher, scoring 38 points on 12-of-17 shooting in the period, while the Knicks shot just 6 of 23. It was Turner and Williams, neither of whom was guarded by Anthony, who did most of the damage, combining for 25 points on 9-of-11 shooting in the period.

The Knicks trailed by 16 at the end of the third and by as many as 21 in the fourth.

Despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary, the easy answer for increasingly grumpy Knicks fans is to point the finger at their star, Anthony. The argument is that Anthony’s tendency to isolate stops the Knicks' offense dead in its tracks, but the offense as a whole actually has played better since Anthony’s return.

In the first nine games of the Linsanity era, New York averaged 97.3 points per game and the Knicks shot 45.4 percent from the field and just 30.3 percent from 3-point range. In the nine games since Anthony’s return, New York has scored 100.9 points per game on 44.3 percent shooting with a 38.5 percent mark from distance.

As for Anthony, specifically, he’s done a commendable job trying to adjust to Lin’s presence in the lineup. He’s taking two fewer shots per game over the past nine games than he did in his first 22, and his scoring average has gone down from 18.8 points pre-Linsanity to 16.7. His shooting percentage, both from 3-point range and overall, are actually higher than they were before Lin was in the lineup.

But D’Antoni continues to inadvertently shift blame in Anthony’s direction by defending the struggling Lin, who is proving to be more flash in the pan than phenom as the season wears on.

After scoring 25 points per game on 50.9 percent shooting without Anthony in the lineup, Lin has seen his scoring numbers drop to 16.3 points on 39.1 percent shooting and a 30.8 percent mark from long distance.

“Jeremy has to play a certain way — the floor has to be open, you’ve got to play with energy, and you have to go,” D’Antoni said. “We have to get that way, and we aren’t there. … He is going to have some nights that are not going to be perfect, but he knows how to win, and he figures it out as the game goes on. He is going to be a very good point guard.”

The seats at Madison Square Garden were full Sunday, but the electricity was decidedly gone. The same crowd that was utterly deafening at the height of Linsanity had fallen silent, and with good reason. The team on the floor has given them little to cheer about since the All-Star break.

The Knicks fell to 18-23 after Sunday’s loss, tied with Cleveland in the loss column and just 1½ games ahead of Milwaukee for the No. 8 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

They may have risen to prominence behind the stellar play of one man, but they’ve unquestionably collapsed as a unit.

“When you get your rear kicked like we are, you can’t just come out and say that it’s this or it’s that,” D’Antoni said. “Collectively we just didn’t play well, and collectively our spirit is not good. Collectively our defense is not very good at all, and collectively we just didn’t do what we’re supposed to do, and we’ve got to solve that somehow.”

Follow San Gardner on Twitter: @sam_gardner.