By Anthony L. Cuaycong
As expected, Carmelo Anthony received a warm — well mostly warm — reception in his return to the Garden for the first time since he was traded to the Thunder in the offseason. It helped, of course, that new top dog Kristaps Porzingis publicly declared that he deserved to be recognized for being the Knicks’ marquee attraction through a half decade and change. Never mind that he managed to lead the blue and orange to the playoffs just thrice, and past the first round only once.
Needless to say, Anthony made the most — or, to be more precise, tried to make the most — of his time back in Gotham’s Sports Mecca. In recent memory, he looked more intent, and content, to defer to the other members of the Thunder’s Big Three in an effort to promote efficiency. Yesterday, though, he was more of the Iso Melo who elicited from Knicks fans a roller coaster of emotions. And he wound up misfiring more often than not, no doubt due to the defense thrown at him, but likewise because he appeared, at times, to be overwhelmed by the occasion.
As things turned out, Anthony would fail to get the satisfaction of a respectable showing. Not only did he manage to can a mere five of his 18 attempts from the field; he was blanked for the entire second half. In fact, his last basket came off an assisted slam with a little over four minutes left in the second quarter. And from then on, the Thunder were outscored by 10 en route to a 15-point defeat. Which, in a nutshell, means he didn’t get any satisfaction at all. (Notably, Paul George also struggled at the Fieldhouse earlier in the week, but left his home of the last seven years with a W.)
For all the disappointment Anthony must have felt, the bigger takeaway from yesterday’s outcome was the Thunder’s continuing lack of fluidity on both ends of the court. A full third into their 2017-18 campaign, they remain lost and unsure; even as their talent cannot be denied, they haven’t shown enough of it to justify their preseason prognosis as a powerhouse. If anything, they’ve displayed the opposite; he, George, and reigning league Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook seem to revert to “Your Turn, My Turn, His Turn” mode under pressure.
The good news is that the Thunder have time to improve and crowd the top of the West, not scramble to avoid the lottery. Frankly, they’re too stacked not to. Then again, the numbers don’t lie, and losing to the Knicks, who competed without Porzingis and Tim Hardaway, Jr., should send alarm bells ringing. There were no smiles in the visitors’ locker room, not after a tiring back-to-back stand that featured a triple-overtime win and then a disappointing setback, and not heading into the uncertainty of what’s still to come.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is the Senior Vice-President and General Manager of Basic Energy Corp.