Kathy Willens, Associated Press
GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The same people insisting the Knicks gave up too much for Carmelo Anthony may have been in the crowd that was standing and chanting his name Wednesday night.
Anthony's Knicks debut was the kind of game New York might have lost a week ago. Amare Stoudemire had fouled out, forcing the Knicks to protect a four-point lead in the final minute without their leading scorer.
Before, that would have been panic time.
Now, it's Anthony's time.
And that's why the blockbuster deal with Denver was worth it for the Knicks.
"Now you've got two guys that can take over a game, and one of them took it over last night," team president Donnie Walsh said. "In the past, if Amare had fouled out, we could've won the game, but not in that fashion."
Anthony scored 27 points in New York's 114-108 victory over Milwaukee, 11 in the final quarter. His tough jumper in the lane with 26 seconds left was the biggest basket of the game, and he later added a pair of free throws for a six-point lead while "Melo! Melo!" chants boomed through Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks traded starters Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov, plus top reserve Wilson Chandler in the deal for Anthony. In the final days before the trade, there were strong objections in the media and from some Knicks fans — and reports of hesitancy from Walsh and coach Mike D'Antoni — that New York was simply giving up too much.
So Anthony appreciated Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri saying Denver "got killed" in the deal that also sent Chauncey Billups to New York.
"For Masai to say that, that meant a lot, because I've been hearing that, that New York gave up a lot just to get me and Chauncey," Anthony said. "That's people's opinions, so for Masai to step up and say that, that they took a huge hit, that meant a lot to me."
Actually, Ujiri did well with the players he got. The Knicks believe they did better.
Maybe not right away, but certainly in the playoffs, where they would have two explosive scorers with postseason experience, plus a cagey point guard who was the MVP of the NBA finals in 2004.
"We have different options now, no doubt about it," D'Antoni said.
The ex-Knicks were good players, but they were all streaky. None could be relied on consistently to carry the team without Stoudemire on the floor, forcing a heavy workload on the power forward in his first season in New York.
Yet when fouls limited him to only 34 minutes and 13 shot attempts Wednesday, the Knicks relied on Anthony and ended up winning for only the fifth time this season, and first since November, when Stoudemire scored fewer than 20 points.
And the Knicks may have to face some games without Stoudemire down the stretch. He picked up his 15th technical foul of the season Wednesday, one away from an automatic one-game suspension. He would then be suspended another game for every second technical he receives after that.
Walsh and D'Antoni have restored some credibility to a franchise that had lost most of it during the Isiah Thomas era. The Knicks have nine straight losing seasons, the worst stretch in their history, haven't been to the playoffs since 2004 and haven't won a postseason game in a decade.
Stoudemire's signing in July was a huge boost, yet in some ways was a bit of a letdown because the Knicks had spent two seasons clearing enough cap space to sign two maximum-salary players and only got one.
His superb play was enough to carry the Knicks into playoff contention, but now pairing him with Anthony, plus Billups, gives them better hope of actually winning a round.
And if Anthony's debut was loud, just imagine the atmosphere at MSG when postseason basketball finally comes back.
"I got a lot of texts and calls, just from the standpoint of they haven't seen the Garden like that in a long, long time," Anthony said. "And so for these fans to just be yelling my name, chanting my name, chanting Chauncey's name, yelling MVP for Amare, you can just feel the energy in the building."
And in the city. The Knicks' futility has left the headlines to teams such as the Yankees and Jets, who have enjoyed recent postseason success. It has made basketball fall back in the pecking order, and the only time the Knicks earned much press at all lately was for stories about Thomas, or the LeBron James free agency pursuit.
Anthony, who is from Brooklyn, has seen the decline and wants to halt it.
"New York basketball affects a lot of things in New York City, not just sports," he said. "It affects families, it affects neighborhoods, boroughs."
His debut was the story Wednesday, even on a day the rival Nets pulled off their own blockbuster to land point guard Deron Williams from Utah. It was MSG's highest-rated Knicks telecast in the regular season since Michael Jordan's famed "double-nickel" game on March 28, 1995, when he scored 55 points in his return to Madison Square Garden after his first retirement.
But even the skeptics knew the trade would be a winner at the box office. The doubt was about what it would mean on the court.
Anthony's arrival proved there shouldn't be any.
"We're getting closer to becoming a complete team," he said.
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