By John Schmeelk
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Kevin Garnett is a great basketball player, but he is also a borderline dirty player that acts like a jerk on the court. He is also a maestro that played Carmelo Anthony like an instrument last night. Garnett baited Anthony like no one else in the league can, and Melo responded by biting down on the hook like an untested rookie who forgot he was playing in the NBA and not on some playground in Baltimore.

Watching Anthony last night was like viewing a tragic play that everyone knew the ending of except for him. As Garnett bumped, elbowed and said who knows what to him, Anthony got angrier by the second. In the third quarter, Anthony committed two nonsensical fouls more than 25 feet away from the basket that gave him four for the game. They had nothing to do with smart basketball or good defense, and everything to do with a guy losing his head on the floor.

It came to a head in the fourth quarter when Anthony was switched onto Garnett over and over again (more on that tomorrow — Mike Woodson was terribly outcoached by Doc Rivers and had more to do with the loss than Anthony) and the two started what could only be called street fighting in the post. It’s exactly what Garnett wanted, and he got Anthony to react perfectly. They got double technical fouls, and at times it looked like Anthony was on the verge of an ejection. J.R. Smith, of all people, had to be the voice of reason and step in to calm Anthony down. Let that settle in: Smith was the calming influence. To Anthony’s credit, he never crossed that line and got tossed, but he did let his emotions get the better of him, and it affected his offense.

In the fourth quarter Anthony shot 2-of-10, including seven from three-point land. Of those seven threes, many were forced and few were in the flow of the offense. He was having a bad shooting game anyway, but Garnett took him out of his game. His shot selection and general demeanor stunk.

Watching from the stands, it honestly looked like Anthony was a lot more interested in settling some kind of personal score with Garnett than he was in winning the game. Based on how he acted in the tunnel, outside the Celtics’ locker room and by the bus after the game it was clear that that was his priority. It’s not something a professional does.

The Celtics were in large part a mental hurdle for the Knicks. Despite their slow start, they were still the second-best team in the Eastern Conference last year once Derrick Rose got hurt. They still have Garnett and Paul Pierce, and took the Heat to the brink of elimination. The Knicks have yet to beat them in a big spot.

Heading into this game — especially without Rajon Rondo — no one would argue that the Knicks were the better team, but the Celtics knew they could win if they used their veteran guile, tricks and instigating tactics to drag the Knicks into their type of game. Thanks to the lack of discipline from Anthony they were able to do just that.

Anthony has been rightfully credited for a lot of growth this year as a leader and as an unselfish team player on offense. All that praise was well-earned and deserving, but Monday night was a huge step back. A leader and a winner does not try to fight Garnett after a game outside the locker room or by the team buses. A leader and a winner doesn’t let himself melt down in the fourth quarter of a close and important game. There was a disturbing lack of mental toughness and maturity. We’ve seen immature stuff like this before from Anthony, like his infamous sucker punch of Mardy Collins.

This was going to be a big week for the Knicks since they were playing three defensive-oriented Eastern Conference teams that they could see in the postseason. The Celtics, Pacers and Bulls all want to slow it down, play physical basketball and win with defense. So far this season, the Knicks have shown the penchant for letting teams like those take them out of their game.

It happened in their two losses to the Bulls, the latter of which saw ejections from Anthony, Woodson and Tyson Chandler. It also happened in the third quarter of their early-season loss against the Grizzlies, when Woodson, Anthony, Smith and Rasheed Wallace all were hit with technical fouls during the game.

The Knicks do not respond well to overly physical play, especially when they aren’t getting the calls from the officials. Instead of locking down their emotions and playing harder, they lose focus.

And more times than not, they lose the game.

They get more concerned with complaining to the referees and engaging with macho physical play with their opponents than actually trying to win the basketball game. Some guys play better angry, but this Knicks team and its star doesn’t  Anthony is not Sidney Dean (White Men Can’t Jump reference).

Every park has an older guy that can pick out the new young guy that has a ton of skills, but can get psyched out by a well-placed elbow or some trash talk. By the end of the second game the new guy is so angry that he stops playing well. That’s exactly what Garnett did to Anthony. I’ve seen it on the playground a dozen times and have been on the receiving end of it. I saw it last night on the floor of Madison Square Garden. Anthony has to get out of that playground mentality.

A team takes its cue from its best player, and last night Anthony set a terrible example and showed that he is still immature in many ways. Can Garnett be a jerk and a dirty player? Sure. But Anthony should know that and measure his reactions accordingly. Is there any doubt that Garnett was laughing on the inside every second that Anthony imploded on the court and acted like an idiot after the game? I’m sure they’re still laughing about it at practice today. Melo should know better.

Luckily for Anthony this was merely a regular-season game. He and the rest of the Knicks team needs to realize that the entire postseason is going to be filled with games just like these. Perhaps they can learn from this and figure out a way to keep their cool. They’ll have two more tests in just a couple of days against the Pacers and the Bulls, two teams that will try to do similar things to the Knicks.

The Knicks’ mental toughness needs to match their strong play, and it begins with their star. If it doesn’t, the only things the Knicks will be doing at the end of May is watching the playoffs on television.

You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.

How alarming was Carmelo’s display both on the court and off? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…

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