This past Saturday, Game 1 of the opening round series between the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics was winding down and the situation was clear: Up only five with a little less than a minute to go, the Knicks needed one more bucket to seal the game.

Stuck above the three-point line after an aborted high pick and roll with ageless teammate Kenyon Martin, Carmelo Anthony’s airspace was diminishing fast. Kevin Garnett and former Hoya great Jeff Green were bearing down on him. Just five seconds remained on the shot clock. Having already poured in 36 points on 29 shots, M’elo and his prodigious shooting stroke seemed to be the only option. The NBA’s leading scorer this year, perhaps the best pure scorer in the game, would surely call on that herky-jerky jumper of his once more to ice the game and get the Knicks a much-needed win.

Or he would pass.

Spying Martin uncovered on a crisp roll to the hoop, Anthony rose up and threw a bullet pass to his teammate. It was by no means a pinpoint exchange, but Martin reached up and snagged it out of the air for the layup, the assist and, most importantly, the 85-78 victory. The whole sequence was a departure from the norm, for sure. The shoot-first Anthony we knew so well was nowhere to be found. In his place was a selfless floor general, at least for just a possession.

That pass to Martin was Anthony’s lone assist on the afternoon. The next John Stockton isn’t putting on that No. 7 Knicks jersey anytime soon. But the importance of that pass shouldn’t be understated.

Anthony has always been a scorer. He was probably chucking up a fadeaway three when he came out of the womb. At high school basketball powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, Anthony averaged 22 points per game his senior year while playing against some of the best competition in the country. The next stop for the phenom was Syracuse, where Anthony again averaged 22 points per game, including a 33-point performance against Texas in the Final Four — a freshman scoring record. His scoring talent ensured that Anthony was never long for the Orange, and so he declared for the NBA draft after his first season at Syracuse. He departed with a national championship to his name and an array of scoring moves ready to flourish at the next level.

In a loaded 2003 draft, Anthony went third overall to Denver and his scoring touch went west with him. He tallied 41 points in a game as a 19-year-old rookie for the Nuggets. This year, he’s coming off an early April stretch during which he put up at least 40 points for three straight games. He’s dropped 50 points  in a game three times in his illustrious career.

So it’s never been the stats that have haunted Anthony. Rather, he, like so many other greats, has come up short time and time again in the postseason. For all his gaudy individual numbers, the fact remains that Anthony has had one of the least fruitful — and most disappointing — playoff careers of any superstar in NBA history.

Prior to this year, ’Melo has led nine teams to the playoffs. Eight times, he has failed to get past the first round. While he has never struggled to score in the postseason, averaging 25 points per game in the playoffs, the wins have not come at an equally prolific clip. His career postseason record before this year is a surreal 17-37, making him the losingest postseason player of the last 20 years. Save for a run to the conference finals four years ago, Anthony — one of the best players of his generation — has shown us nothing once the curtain has closed on the regular season.

With his legacy on the line, there is no better opportunity for Anthony than this postseason. He needs to be a leader, not just a scorer. With the ball in his hands, Anthony has to be able to do what he does best — score — and what he has struggled mightily with — win in the postseason. The two used to be mutually exclusive.

That’s what made Game 1 so tantalizing and such a joy to watch. It was a vintage Carmelo display; spin moves and fadeaways, drives and pull-up jumpers all made for a portfolio of scoring that could be replicated by few in the league. And in the end, with the game on the line, Anthony did the unthinkable — he passed. He found a way to win. In the postseason, no less. Something new, yet something welcome all the same.

Can a pass rewrite a legacy? It’s not the end of the story. But it’s certainly a start. Just ask CarmeloAnthony.

 

Peter Barston is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. This is the final appearance of RAISING THE BAR this semester.

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