NEW YORK — As the Knicks made their run — and the Celtics fell apart — there was one man who seemed unable to miss a shot. Having started slowly, in contrast to his 4 for 4 start in Game 1, Carmelo Anthony found his stroke suddenly and brilliantly Tuesday night in Game 2.
To start? Anthony was 3 for 11, as the Celtics kept pace with the Knicks.
To finish? Anthony was 5 for 6 in the third quarter and 8 for 13 in the second half, as the Knicks pulled away for an 87-71 win at Madison Square Garden to take a 2-0 series lead.
Anthony finished with 34 points, following a 36-point performance in Game 1. He outscored the Celtics, 13-11, in the third quarter. It was his 19th career 30-point game in the playoffs.
“In the playoffs, it’s not going to always be perfect for any player,’’ coach Mike Woodson said. “Melo struggled, but at the end of the night he was still there at the end making the plays that we needed him to make from an offensive standpoint.
“He figures it out. The great ones do that. He just kept playing, and things started to fall his way.’’
And still, in Anthony’s mind, the Celtics have yet to see him at his best.
He sat at the podium after the game and critiqued his output, which included going 10 for 11 from the free throw line.
There were certainly moments in Game 2 that weren’t his best.
“I’m just playing basketball,’’ he said. “I’m trying to take advantage of what they’ve been throwing at me. I’ve got to make some shots. I’ve been missing some shots that I feel like I can make. I’m missing, both games, some open shots that I normally make.’’
But the Celtics couldn’t keep him under wraps all night, even after he struggled in the first half.
“I can’t tell myself that I don’t have it tonight, especially right now in these playoffs,’’ Anthony said.
“Throughout the course of a game, for me, my mentality is if something’s not working, just make adjustments, the same way I’ve been making adjustments in the second half to their defense.
“Maybe it’s an adjustment to the shot that I’m taking or not using my legs enough, not keeping my follow-through up. But it’s just certain adjustments that I make within myself seem like they’re coming out in the second half.’’
Of course, it’s not only Anthony. He knows that he can’t win this series by himself, even though he often appears to want to take all of his team’s shots. He knows he needs help.
He got it Tuesday from Sixth Man of the Year, J.R. Smith, who scored 19 points and from Raymond Felton (16 points), and from defensive stalwart
“We’ve been showing that,’’ Anthony said. “My guys know that I trust them a lot, especially when things are not going well for myself. I rely on my teammates more than a lot of people see that. I rely on my teammates to pick me up offensively when I don’t have it, defensively when we’re not doing it.
“That’s something that we’ve been building on since training camp: trusting one another, believing in one another. That’s what we’re doing right now.’’
And that’s what has helped them post back-to-back wins against the Celtics.
But with everything that has happened this week in Boston, Anthony acknowledged that Game 3 is unlikely to be a regular game.
Because of that, he understands his responsibility to the Knicks. He knows what he has to do to make the Knicks play more like they’ve played in the second half, and less like the first half.
“We’ve got to prepare for the emotions that will be taking place in Boston on Friday,’’ Anthony said. “As a team we’ve got to go in there being together, staying together, knowing that it’s going to be a game of runs, knowing that it’s going to be very emotional in that building.
“We’re going there to win that game. That’s our mentality.’’