Since coming into the league during the same draft class, playing the same position, fighting for the same Rookie of the Year award… actually scratch that… since playing against each other in one of the most anticipated high school games of all time, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony have carried a friendly rivalry. No, they don’t get to see each other too often in June, and yes, ‘Bron has had much more success in the NBA. But these are two of the best talents in the NBA and have been for a decade.
It was no surprise to see LeBron follow up Anthony’s monster 60-point night earlier this season with one of his own. Now, with both players playing out of their minds, we wanted to debate which 60-point game was more impressive: Carmelo’s or LeBron’s? We argue. You decide.
*** *** ***
CARMELO ANTHONY’s 62-POINT GAME
We can all count, right?
I jest, but there’s a lot more to proving that Carmelo’s 62-point outburst was superior to James’ instant classic than simply counting the points. Both performances were otherworldly–remember, the 60-point threshold has only been reached 31 times, and Wilt is responsible for seven of them. With the margin between their totals so close, how do we discern between the two?
Team context is important, not just in considering the talent of both rosters, but understanding the responsibility each carries on a nightly basis. James carries one of the most unique loads in the league, replicating a human Swiss army knife for Miami even as co-star Dwyane Wade shuttles in and out of the lineup. But Anthony’s burden is perhaps even more taxing–he’s playing on a disjointed team that has all but given up.
ESPN’s Bill Simmons made note of this at halftime of Sunday’s Bulls-Knicks game, saying that even Tyson Chandler, once seen as an ideal teammate and defensive lynchpin, deserves scrutiny for mailing in his efforts on most nights. On a team loaded with malcontents like J.R. Smith and gun-toting knuckleheads like Raymond Felton, seeing it extend to a “character” guy is shocking to say the least.
Anthony, meanwhile, has been off the charts for the Knicks. He’s averaging career-highs in rebounds and three-point percentage, succeeding not because he has a working cast around him, but through sheer force of will. There’s no night this season more evident of that than his performance versus the Bobcats.
The box score from that Jan. 24 contest is staggering–62 points, 13 rebounds on 65.7 percent shooting–but several advanced metrics reveal just how big of a load Anthony carried that night. Anthony grabbed 22.1 percent of all available rebounds while he was on the floor, nearly double James’ mark of 10.7 percent last night. In order to have the opportunity to score, the Knicks forward made sure to pound the glass at every opportunity.
Another metric to consider is usage percentage, which estimates the amount of team possessions used by a player when on the court. In framing last night’s game, many have claimed that LeBron’s game was superior because it came “within the flow of the offense,” which isn’t really true. James had a USG rate of 47.5 percent last night, while Anthony’s was 49.5 during his bombardment.
Both used approximately half of their team’s possessions, a far cry from their usual figures which hover around 30-ish percent. Painting Anthony’s game–at least in this specific context–as more selfish while holding up James doesn’t pass the smell test. In fact, Anthony actually played less minutes than James, who played well into the fourth quarter in order to achieve his outburst.
That’s because the Heat never really ran away with last night’s game, which James admitted helped aid his quest for 60-plus in his postgame interview. Had the Heat blown out the Bobcats in the manner that the Knicks did, it’s likely that we never would have seen him get to that point. By virtue of Anthony’s dominance, New York was able to take their foot off the gas pedal and allow Anthony to take a crack at the MSG scoring record without being in poor taste.
Perhaps it’s because we’ve become overwhelmed by the accomplishments of LeBron that the performance by Carmelo seems more significant, but the stakes in place are important as well. With all due respect to Glen Rice–holder of the Heat single-game scoring record prior to last night–Anthony surpassed Knicks legend Bernard King and future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant on his way into team and arena record books.
Both performances were scintillating, but there’s a certain level of poetry in watching a lone ranger put a team on his back, something that wasn’t quite there watching the key cog in the Heat’s well-oiled machine perform at his best last night. It’s close, but I’ll take Anthony.