What 62 Can Do, or Melo At The Garden

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At some point during Carmelo Anthony's relentless barrage of swished midrange jumpers over the weekend -- a Madison Square Garden-record 62 points on Friday night, 35 more on Sunday -- the question presented itself: what, if anything, does all this mean for this Knicks team, in this Knicks season. You are forgiven if Carmelo's sudden ascendance to unguardable shotmaker -- it is not a long trip from where he usually is, and he’s been there before -- made you wonder whether this would or could turn a hellish season around, and all the melted garbage that had accumulated in piles around everyone associated with the 2013 iteration of the Knicks might somehow be washed away by one incomparably brilliant performance. But you’ve seen these Knicks, and you’ve seen basketball, so this was most likely a fleeting thought.

Carmelo is a uniquely gifted scorer, to be sure, but 62 point games are hardly a recipe for sustained success, especially if those games don't involve a serious shift from an iso-heavy offense. The Knicks weren't springing Anthony loose for more shots, really. He just happened to be making all the ones he usually takes. That coupled with some stubborn refusal to double-team from Charlotte's coaching staff gifted us perhaps the most memorable performance of the season. It was also one of the greatest performances in one of the most storied basketball venues in the world, and it was giddy and exciting and overhwhelming in all the ways that games like these are. But it didn't mean anything. Or, more to the point, it didn't mean anything for the Knicks.

These are still the Knicks, after all; they were just fortunate that Carmelo Anthony happened to take their uninspired, ball-stopping half court offense and briefly turn it into something else. It was beautiful, and is weirdly rewatchable, all 62 points of it; even people who have watched a lot of basketball might have no idea that somebody could score 62 points in the way Melo did. Who would even think to take that many of those face-up, jab-step, rise and fire mid-range jumpers? This was 62, done Melo's way -- or in the way forced upon him by his team’s strategy and circumstance. It feels easy to say we'll never see anything like it again, despite the fact that -- because of his coach’s and teammates’ incompetence -- we might get to see Melo attempt to replicate it for the rest of his time with the Knicks on a nightly basis.

In a way, it is perfect how irreplaceable and singular this performance was. The way every made shot pulled you out of the context of the season as a whole and into the Garden, on a random night in January, when a second-tier superstar took everyone somewhere new. There’s the temptation to think about what it all meant, but an equal attraction to letting all that go and forgetting that it was supposed to mean anything. Does it matter that the Knicks are terrible? That they sucked before this game, and would soon suck again? This was worthy of appreciation on its own merit.

And isn't this what the Knicks can do for us heathen, non-New York based basketball fans? Much is made of how much media attention even a terrible Knicks team can garner, and that isn't necessarily unfair. The Knicks, because of their market, maybe because of their history, and because of the established corps of Knicks fan-writers, will always occupy a disproportionate piece of the larger basketball discussion. This can be annoying, but on a night like Friday, it was just what the NBA needed it to be. The Knicks, for the rest of us, are best enjoyed as a series of individual performance art pieces, unrelated but powerful, disconnected but enduring, and not necessarily enjoyable.

It helps, of course, that these are all onstage the Globe Theatre. The actors come and go. Some of them, like Jeremy Lin, string together enough encores to constitute a veritable basketball movement. Others, like Steph Curry, come for a game, playing for another team, and perform their distinctive virtuosity on the only stage that does it justice. The Knicks teams may lose in the first round of the playoffs, or they may upset one of the many underwhelming Eastern Conference playoff teams. They may not make the playoffs at all. But none of that really matters, at least in the way that none of us really care about the personal lives of, say, our favorite novelists. What we care about is the way their work shows up every once in awhile. That when we're there to be dazzled -- for raw experience and emotion -- we will not be disappointed.

It's fitting then that it was Carmelo on Friday night setting the record for most points ever scored at the Garden. Melo especially tends to incite earnest conversations about legacies and winning titles and all that long-term narrative stuff that dominates a certain interpretation of and conversation about sports. But that kind of talk misses the real aesthetic value Melo brings to the game, in the same way that questions about what his 62-point game will do for the Knicks season miss the sincere greatness of him putting up 62 points in the first place.

Sure, Melo's Knicks are somebody's team, and Melo is somebody's favorite player, and if those fans want to invest their emotional capital into this team's playoff chances, they're afforded that right. But for the rest of us, after all the coverage shoved our way about that team, it was deeply satisfying that for one night, Melo and the Knicks absolutely warranted it, and that we were all there to enjoy it. It was, for once, just that simple.

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