NEW YORK -- Raise your hand if you had the Knicks beating Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder without Kristaps Porzingis.
Go ahead, I'll wait.
Yeah, I didn't think there would be many hands raised.
But that's exactly what unfolded Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. With Porzingis and his 25.5 points per game sitting on the edge of the Knicks bench in a grey suit due to a sore left knee, and with second-leading scorer Tim Hardaway Jr. still out, the Knicks downed the Thunder, 111-96, in Anthony's first game in New York since he was traded in September.
Michael Beasley, who was brought in to be Carmelo Anthony 2.0, poured in a season-high-tying 30 points with 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Six Knicks scored in double-figures, and the team shared the basketball extremely well with 21 assists.
Anthony, known for his iso-Melo approach, shot 5-for-18 for 12 points, none in the second half.
The Knicks improved to 16-13 without Anthony, while the Thunder dropped to 14-15 with him.
"I like what I see, I like the potential that they have," Anthony said of the Knicks. "I like what they having going on over here. For me, just to see those guys having fun again knowing that it wasn't fun. The fun was lost over the past couple seasons, so to see those guys having fun again, bringing that energy, bringing that love back to the game, back to the Garden, is something that I'm happy for those guys when it comes to that."
Wearing a tan brimmed hat and a long coat, Anthony spoke to the media for about 10 minutes after the game in the Knicks' press area. He said he had "bittersweet" feelings about his return.
"I had dreams of winning a championship here in New York and fell short of it so that's something I will always hold over my head as far as it comes to that," he said. "But I will always be part of this culture here."
Yes, Anthony and the Thunder were probably wiped out after a triple-overtime victory in Philadelphia Friday night. But the Knicks were also playing without their best player, the 7-foot-3 unicorn who has been handed the keys to the franchise in the post-Anthony Era.
The Knicks showed class by honoring Anthony before the game with a video tribute and Anthony received a warm round of mostly cheers and applause when he was introduced.
After all, he was mostly a good soldier during his 6 1/2 years here -- even if it resulted in just one playoff series victory. He left with the third-highest scoring average in Knicks' history at 24.7 points per game. Things went South at the end, especially as Jackson tried to force Anthony out of town before he himself was fired last spring.
"First of all, the video montage caught me by surprise," he said. "I wasn't expecting ti. I was waiting for my name to be called. First and foremost, I want to thank Scott Perry and Steve [Mills] for making my gesture. That goes a long way."
Asked how things might have been different had Jackson still been around, Anthony flashed a Cheshire-Cat smile before answering.
"I don't know what would've happened, to be honest with you," he said. "I try not to think about the past. I put that chapter behind me."
Could Anthony have fit in in this new, non-triangle offense that Jeff Hornacek is running sans Jackson?
"Carmelo's a great player, he can play in any system, whether it's slowdown - and we did a little bit of that early in the season last year - so he'd have figured out how to fit in," Hornacek said. "But the team we have now, this is the way we're playing and that's our focus."
That team is built around Porzingis -- even if he wasn't on display Saturday.
Would Porzingis have developed as much if Anthony were still here?
"I think a combination of he probably still would've gotten more attempts - some of his additional attempts is his stuff that he's worked on over the summer," Hornacek said. "He's able to create a couple of his own shots now. So I think he probably still would've got those. Again, our guys came into the season seeing what was going on, they're just playing hard and giving us a chance to win games. That's all we can ask right now."
So forward the Knicks go, hoping Porzingis comes back healthy soon.
And the Thunder move on with Anthony paired with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook and All-Star Paul George in an uncertain "Big Three" situation.
Enes Kanter, who came over from the Thunder in the Anthony trade and said he will be "fine" despite a neck injury suffered during the game, believes when it's all said and done, the Thunder will be more than OK.
"I believe they are still the best team in the West," Kanter said of his old team, adding that they would eventually figure it out and prove better than Golden State or Houston. A bold statement at this stage, for sure.
Anthony, for his part, said the Thunder have to figure out their own roles going forward to have success.
"When I look at the bigger picture, it's been only two months that we've all been together," he said of the Thunder. "I don't think anybody in any walk of life can adjust to something in two months, something that's brand new like that, especially when it comes to camaraderie as a team, learning to bond as a a team, learning to win together. Those are the little things throughout the course of the season that you get better at."
For now, and with about 30 games played, the new-look, post-Anthony Knicks appear to have things figured out a little better than the Thunder with their Big Three.
"We're almost 30 games into the season, we're clicking, we have a good vibe going," said Knicks forward McDermott, who scored 13 points and was 3-of-5 from deep. "We've got to keep it going."
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