Carmelo Anthony was back on the court on Wednesday night, scoring and leading the Knicks to another win that helped them stay atop the Eastern Conference.
This one was easy, a 100-86 trouncing of the Nets in their first trip to the Garden since they moved to Brooklyn. After seeing his team riddled for 31 points by Anthony, Avery Johnson talked about the Knicks’ star functioning at the highest level.
“He’s on another planet right now,’’ Johnson said, at one point.
Johnson mentioned that Anthony, out the last two games with a twisted left ankle and knee, is scoring every way possible. From beyond the arc. From inside the three-point line. On post-ups. Driving. Getting to the line.
The only thing Johnson didn’t mention was what the visitor to his office talked about, on his way out of the Garden. Patrick Ewing had stuck his head into Johnson’s lair, saying hello and wishing the coach luck the rest of the way.
As he left the visitor’s dressing room, someone told the great old Knick about Johnson’s comment that Anthony is playing out of this world.
“Well,’’ Ewing said, “we all mature.’’
Anthony, in fact, has grown up a lot. He came to New York two years ago and wasn’t exactly embracing a team-first game, not nearly as much as he does now. Ewing can see the difference, too.
“We all grow up,’’ he said, standing out in the hallway.
His old coach, Jeff Van Gundy, was off to the side, after providing the analysis on the telecast for ESPN. They were heading out to dinner, one of about a thousand Van Gundy still owes his former All-Star center.
But first, Ewing wanted to make a few more points about Anthony. Ewing never won the MVP in his time in New York, mostly because this guy named Michael Jordan cornered the market on all the most important trophies back in the ’90s. And before that, some guys named Johnson and Bird carted off most of the MVPs and Larry O’Brien Trophies, when Ewing was trying to bring a title back to the Garden in the late ’80s.
From his courtside chair, the best seat in the house, Ewing got to listen to the M-V-P chants for Anthony late, well after the Knicks had put the Nets away by holding Johnson’s team to 38 points after halftime. The crowd delighted in doing the chant, even more than their derisive version of “Brooklyn’’ you hear at Barclays Center.
“Carmelo is playing so well now,’’ Ewing said. “You guys in the media gave him all that grief for not passing the ball. He’s passing it. He’s moving it. But when we were in Orlando (on Stan Van Gundy’s coaching staff), we saw that he gave up the ball.’’
But Anthony is doing it more, now, in concert with Jason Kidd and all the other Knicks who try to find the open man. If the mood strikes him, J.R. Smith also becomes part of the all-for-one approach to the basketball being played in the Garden these days.
After getting picked apart by James Harden and Jeremy Lin in his return to the Garden on Monday, as Anthony sat out, the Knicks are now 19-6 and 17-4 when Anthony plays.
“Tonight was an easy double-team,’’ he said. “They were double-teaming as soon as I was coming across half court. When you take two guys with you, you move the ball to find the open man.’’
What Anthony does better than move the ball, on a night like this, is shoot it. Five days between games didn’t hurt his touch or his rhythm. He connected on 12 of 22 shots against Gerald Wallace and other Net defenders who were often helpless against his quick release.
“It looked like he didn’t miss a step,’’ Kidd said.
Scoring is old hat for Anthony. But Ewing saw something new from the Knicks’ top player.
“He’s leading now and I feel like the Olympics helped him as a leader,’’ Ewing said. “It helped me when I played in the Olympics. I felt like I came back a much better leader.’’
“We all work hard, all players do,’’ he said. “But when you’re around all those players, in that setting, and you see what kind of leaders they are, it helps you become more mature and a better leader.’’
Then Ewing and his old coach were off to dinner, probably talking about the good old days and this new leader on the Knicks.