Well, here we are. It is Game 6 in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and the Boston Celtics have one of the NBA's best players seemingly on the run.
Doesn't this look familiar?
Sure, certain aspects and minor details have changed, but the situation New York Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony finds himself in is eerily similar to the spot LeBron James and the Miami Heat were in entering Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals. Both got into their respective situations because the Celtics made it so.
Down 2-0 in the 2012 series, Boston took the next three games to put the pressure on James in Game 6. Down 3-0 in the 2013 series, Boston took the next two games to put the pressure on Anthony in Game 6.
Over the past six years, the Boston Celtics have gone from title favorites, to contenders, to a scrappy playoff team, to something along the lines of a playoff nuisance for the top seeds or whatever you may call them right now. All along, however, what hasn't changed is their status as somewhat of a gatekeeper for the Eastern Conference.
Back when they were considered serious championship contenders, all roads to the NBA Finals went through Boston. Now Miami has usurped that specific role from them on paper, but in the real world, it seems the Celtics aren't relenting that title yet.
When the Knicks and, more specifically, Anthony dropped Game 5 amid all the talk and outfit coordination, they ignited a two-day firestorm that may draw similarities to last season's Eastern Conference finals.
Obviously the Knicks are still up 3-2, while the Heat trailed 3-2. This is also the first round of the postseason, and a shot at the finals is not on the line, per se. However, a superstar-led team has to travel to Boston for a crucial Game 6 at the TD Garden. The rivalry is there, and there has been enough kindling added by both sides to keep this fire roaring through Friday night.
What the Celtics have done in their gatekeeper-esque role is provide opportunities for teams and players to take the next step and elevate their game.
When Dwight Howard went to the finals in 2009, he had to topple the Celtics in seven games. Derrick Rose battled them through seven games and lost that same year. He would've met them in 2012 too, if his ACL had held up. Joe Johnson and Josh Smith have had more chances than anyone and have been unable to get by.
Even Anthony hasn't been immune to the Celtics' status. In 2011, he was held by Boston to just 37.5 percent shooting in a four-game sweep. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett made mincemeat of the Knicks in that series. Anthony just wasn't ready yet. Now we get to see if he is ready, two years later.
LeBron James is obviously the biggest example: To win his first ring, he had to pass through the gate of the Boston Celtics.
James did that with a herculean effort in Game 6, putting together a performance for the ages. He was 19-of-26. I'll repeat that so Anthony (39 percent in series) can hear it through his stylish black fedora: In Game 6 last year, LeBron James went 19-of-26 for 45 points and 15 rebounds.
James took responsibility for the predicament the Heat had gotten themselves into, and he heroically clawed them out of a hole. As we know now, James went on to lead Miami to the title and his first ring. He got through the gate in Game 6, just like Anthony will have to do.
'Melo has sized himself up against LeBron for a long time. They entered the league in the same 2003 NBA draft, James at No. 1 and Anthony at No. 3. They've had some decent regular-season battles since then. They played on the Olympic team together and won gold medals.
Anthony has always been second fiddle though. Stemming right from that draft order, Anthony has been unable to achieve what James did before him. They both changed teams a couple years ago, hoping to get more help and a better chance at the elusive title. James finally won his last year, and that is what drives Anthony now.
There may be no comparison for what James went through to get that title. The media went absolutely berserk after the Celtics put down the Heat, 94-90, in Game 5.
June 6, 2012 for LeBron James bears a similar resemblance to May 2, 2013 for Carmelo Anthony. LeBron had to deal with a national uproar because of not-smart decisions he made off the court. "The Decision" and the title promises at the Heat's introduction party gave enough ammunition for the NBA fanbase to turn on him after Game 5.
Similarly, Anthony will have to answer for the black clothing and funeral promises. He has to do so in a storm of insufferable WFAN and WEEI hosts and callers, New York tabloid front pages making caricatures of the situation and, of course, the national media's fascination with the failing superstar.
James went through hell to get that first ring, and Anthony has to be ready for the same path.
This is all what James overcame with that Game 6 effort in Boston, and it is the opportunity the Celtics have now presented Anthony.
The gatekeepers have spoken, and by winning two straight to push a Game 6 at home, they set the pressure on Carmelo Anthony.
He's wanted to prove himself equal to James for years. The Celtics are giving him his first real chance Friday night.
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