By Sean Hartnett
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Let me guess. You probably soured on Carmelo Anthony's MVP chances after his poor shooting performance against the 76ers.
On Sunday night, Melo responded to his critics by exploding for 42 points in a track-meet style 106-104 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. Great athletes thrive under pressure -- and that's exactly what 19,033 fans at Madison Square Garden witnessed as Anthony torched the Hawks.
After Sunday's victory, the Knicks improved their home record to 15-6 -- and had Anthony to thank. Melo protected his home court by catching fire from beyond the arc, tying a franchise record with nine three-pointers made.
His long-distance sharpshooting was hugely impressive, but it was a three-point play earned the hard way that brought fans out of their seats.
With 12.5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Anthony attacked the basket and drove past a helpless Josh Smith, who fouled Melo in the process. The clutch basket triggered "MVP, MVP" chants from the Garden crowd as Anthony sunk the free throw to complete the three-point play.
While some have speculated over the past few weeks whether Anthony's MVP candidacy was fading, he sent the NBA world a resounding reminder of why he is indeed a genuine contender.
Raymond Felton did his part in setting up Anthony as the provider in his second game back after returning from a broken right pinky. Felton made a number of highlight passes and finished the night with 12 points and 10 assists. After the game, reporters asked Felton for his thoughts on Anthony's impact.
"He's doing a great job finishing games for us, closing it out, hitting big shots. He's my MVP," Felton responded.
Tyson Chandler echoed similar thoughts on Melo's determined effort.
"He saw something he liked and he went for it," Chandler told reporters after the victory. "He's playing unbelievably high right now. It seemed every time he put it up it was going in. He kind of put the team on his back offensively down the stretch."
Knicks head coach Mike Woodson didn't want to pull Anthony out of the game. Woodson rode his prized horse and it paid off.
"He needed a breakout like that," Woodson stated after the win. "He's been scoring, he just hasn't been shooting at a high rate. Tonight, I couldn't rest him. I've been riding him third and fourth quarter and he came up big with with big shot after big shot. It was kind of nice to see."
The Knicks' meeting with the Hawks was the first of five consecutive home games at Madison Square Garden. Melo will be looking to take advantage of this opportunity to defend his house and turn The Garden into a fortress.
The next four games on their home court come against the Magic, Bucks, Kings and Pistons. Out of those four, only the Bucks have an above .500 record.
New York is only 1.5 games behind first-place Miami in the Eastern Conference standings. Now is the time for Melo to keep the MVP momentum going by beating up on the weak and climbing above the Heat.
Will Melo propel the Knicks above the Heat in the East? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.
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