BOSTON — Leadership is not a quality often associated with Carmelo Anthony, who the world at large has decided isn’t much more than a gifted scorer of meaningless points on teams that will never win anything.
All of those knocks might be true. But gestures like Wednesday’s could help the New York Knicks forward shed that image.
Anthony scored 34 points and collected nine rebounds in leading the Knicks to a 116-92 win over the Boston Celtics, which wasn’t all that unusual a stat line for the nine-time All-Star. What did seem a bit uncharacteristic was Anthony presenting a game ball to Cole Aldrich, a 25-year-old center who has played for four teams in four NBA seasons.
“He stepped up, big time,” Anthony said. “Cole’s been very patient this year, sitting and waiting for his number to be called, and when his number was called (Wednesday), he stepped up to the challenge and gave us a big lift, offensively and defensively.”
Aldrich contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds in his first start for the Knicks (26-40), who climbed within three games of the Atlanta Hawks for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Still, it wasn’t just the distribution of game balls that set Anthony apart. Across the hall, Jeff Green sat glumly in his locker, his own 27 points not enough to prevent a second consecutive loss for the Celtics (22-43), who trailed by as many as 24 points after the Knicks started the game 9-of-10 from 3-point territory.
“It’s real tough,” Green said. “We got put in a hole. They got an early start, gave them a rhythm, and it was hard to get them out of that rhythm.”
The difference between Anthony and Green is stark on nights like this. Even when Green erupted for 17 points in the third quarter — as many points as New York’s entire team mustered in the frame — it was pretty much assured that he wouldn’t keep that roll going into the fourth quarter. He simply is not that level of scorer. Not like Anthony.
“I think there’s a lot of guys that aren’t going to score 27 points a night that have the capability to do so on a given night,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I think the league is full of guys like that. That’s really what separates the Carmelos of the world, and the LeBron (James) and (Kevin) Durants, that they can do it every single night. That’s not a knock on Jeff. That’s a credit to those other guys.”
Rajon Rondo, recalcitrant delinquent that he is, softly called over rookie Chris Babb in the locker room after the game, hoping the collected members of the media wouldn’t notice.
“Yo, Babb,” Rondo said. “Let me holler at you.”
For the next several minutes, Babb and Phil Pressey huddled around Rondo’s corner locker while the point guard went over something, either printed on a piece of paper or shown on a tablet. Rondo, who did not play in the game to rest his right knee, could have been going over X’s and O’s or giving the rookies directions to a cheeseburger joint in Connecticut where he wanted them to get him some fries. Whatever it was, Babb and Pressey listened carefully. Playing or not — traveling on the road or not — Rondo carries cachet among his colleagues.