By Michael Muldoon
---- — They are the five words any athlete most dreads to hear.
Can’t win the big one.
It’s a label that sticks to you like Darrelle Revis or bubble gum.
Carmelo Anthony has been saddled with that dubious tag. Even worse for him, he’s in the media capital of the world. It’s a lot easier to not win the big one with the Denver Nuggets than with the New York Knicks.
And if he thought the talk is bad now, by the end of New York’s first-round NBA playoff series with the archrival Celtics, it could be loud enough to burst eardrums from Brooklyn to Buffalo.
The Knicks are the No. 2 seed in the East with a 54-28 record and Boston is No. 7 with a pedestrian 41-40 mark.
All 10 ESPN analysts predicted the New Yorkers to win the series and only three had it going seven games.
So if Melo, the NBA scoring king, can’t lead his club past Boston?
That’s too painful to think of if you are Anthony.
He has a career 17-37 playoff record and take away a run to the 2009 Western Conference finals and it’s a pitiful 7-31 while losing all eight playoff series.
He denied he’s feeling any extra pressure, which, of course, is laughable. But if New York loses, I assure you, Melo won’t be laughing.
The reality is that the loser tag can be reversed quickly. Heard anybody call LeBron James a loser lately? John Elway could never win the big one until the Broncos acquired Terrell Davis. Believe it or not, the great Magic Johnson once was openly criticized in Sports Illustrated for not being able to win the big one.
Closer to home, Kevin Garnett seemed destined to be one of the greatest players to never win the big one.
Then he became a Celtic.
Voila, the loser is a winner. A good coach and Hall of Fame teammates can make all the difference.
Garnett’s career path is remarkably similar to Anthony’s. He lost in the first round seven straight years with Minnesota, had a run to the West finals and then didn’t make the playoffs the next three years before being trade to Boston.
The rest is history. That’s KG’s good fortune. He’s now a winner.
Ironically, if Boston knocks off the Knicks, the temptation will be to say KG was in Anthony’s head. Just like when an infuriated Anthony wanted to fight KG in early January, reportedly for trash-talking about Melo’s wife.
The pressure is on Anthony, a 10-year vet who’ll turn 29 in late May. If the heavily-favored Knicks spit the bit, it could be an unbearable summer for the face of the franchise. He’s the perfect face, too, because the once proud Knicks haven’t made it past the first round since 2000.
As ESPN New York’s Johnette Howard wrote, “He thought there was hell to pay before, just wait.”
Boston lost 7 of its last 20 while Kevin Garnett sat out much of the time. If he’s not near full strength, Boston might not have a chance. The Knicks had a late-season 13-game winning streak. ... It’s not Melo-esque pressure, but Boston fans will be keeping a close eye on Jeff Green. It’s time for struggling Jason Terry to step up, too. ... While they played well without him, the loss of Rajon Rondo could be huge. Mr. Triple Double always plays best in the postseason.
Head to head
New York won 3 of the 4 regular-season matchups. Carmelo Anthony averaged 25.3 points in the four games, but on just .350 shooting. ... Knicks coach Mike Woodson said he expects Amar’e Stoudemire to miss the series. Starting guard Pablo Prigioni is questionable for today’s game. ... J.R. Smith had a big regular season but the super sub will have to prove to skeptics he can be consistent when it matters most.