Carmelo Anthony, Looking Settled in His New Home, Helps Shut Down Knicks
Carmelo Anthony arrived at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Thursday night in a colorful sweatshirt with a patch on the back that featured the hashtag “#StayMe7o.”
It was a catchall slogan for Anthony during his tumultuous years with the Knicks, and he used it repeatedly to convey a not-so-subtle message that no matter how many losses his team collected, or how often Phil Jackson, the since-departed team president, took public shots at him, or how much criticism he absorbed for his style of play, he was above the fray.
That was the general idea, anyway. But for six and a half seasons, Anthony was in the middle of it all, far from blameless, a central figure in the scattered highs and the many lows.
On Thursday, less than a month after accepting a trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Anthony seemed to have left it all behind. He wore a new uniform for a new coach alongside new teammates in a new city — and then went about helping wear down his old team.
In the season opener for both teams, the Thunder and their fresh assemblage of stars eased past the Knicks, 105-84, before a festive crowd.
Anthony, who started at power forward and embraced Knicks Coach Jeff Hornacek before the start of the second half, finished with 22 points and shot 8 of 20 from the field. Nearly a month removed from his protracted and messy exit from the Knicks, who finally shipped him here on the eve of training camp, Anthony appeared comfortable in his new home.
“That chapter is closed,” Anthony said of the Knicks after the game.
His new team promises to be one of the N.B.A.’s more intriguing experiments this season. Over the off-season, General Manager Sam Presti engineered deals for Paul George and Anthony, adding two established stars to a starting lineup led by Russell Westbrook, the league’s reigning most valuable player.
In the modern N.B.A., the consensus is that potential contenders — especially in the Western Conference — need to front-load their rosters with as many stars as possible if they are to have any chance of competing with the Golden State Warriors. Often, that formula comes at the expense of depth. The Thunder do not have much. They are banking on talent.
On Thursday, Westbrook was his usual self, cluttering the box score with 21 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds. George finished with 28 points.
Kristaps Porzingis had 31 points and 12 rebounds for the Knicks.
If there was any question that the game had added significance for Anthony, he provided evidence on his Twitter account a few hours before the game. He posted a message — “You watched me walk through hell, now watch me walk up out it” — above a photograph of himself in his new uniform.
Before the opening tip, Porzingis hugged Anthony and then proceeded to harass him on defense. Anthony missed six of his first seven attempts from the field. Despite forcing 11 turnovers, the Thunder led by just 27-24 at the end of the first quarter. It was a positive sign for the Knicks. They were competing, and perhaps that is all anyone can ask of them this season.
“I was happy for him,” Anthony said of Porzingis, “just to see that’s he’s ready to take on that role.”
If the Thunder are a work in progress, they are at least preparing to defend their dissertation. The Knicks are preschoolers. Nobody expects much of them this year, and for good reason. They have some young talent. But they also have about a small army of centers, a dearth of outside shooting and, barring miracles, little chance of making the playoffs.
Hornacek has been steadfast in his refusal to create expectations that go much beyond effort. There is little talk of wins and losses. Instead, the focus is solely on building for the future.
Here was Hornacek at the team’s morning shoot-around when he was asked about defending the Thunder: “I think our guys will come out and at least fight and try as hard as they can.”
He also had little interest in rehashing last season.
“Again,” he said before the game, “I’m not going to talk about last year. This year, I think these guys are really committed to trying to do the right things, try to play together as a team, and they know that as a young group we’re going to have to rely on each other.”
As for Anthony, Hornacek said he thought that Oklahoma City was a “good spot” for him with a “great team.”
The Knicks, meanwhile, will be formed in Porzingis’s imposing shadow. Hornacek wants to guard against the idea that Porzingis is now the unquestioned face of the franchise — “He has to grow into that position,” said Hornacek, who was quick to add that Porzingis was just 22 — but he is immensely skilled and proved as much against the Thunder.
He scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the first half and was almost wholly responsible for keeping the Knicks within striking distance of the Thunder.
Eventually, though, the Thunder asserted themselves: with fast-break dunks, with 3-pointers, with backdoor cuts. At the buzzer, Anthony went to hug several of his former teammates as confetti fell from the rafters, a fitting end to his fresh start.