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A night to remember at MSG

NEW YORK -- From the never-seen-that-before department: The fans at Madison Square Garden were on their feet for the final 10 minutes.

No, not the last 10 minutes of the game. This was merely warm-ups.

Amid an electric atmosphere rarely seen, heard or felt at Madison Square Garden for more than a decade, a sleep-deprived Carmelo Anthony made his New York Knicks debut a smashing success Wednesday night as a new era dawned at the place they call the World's Most Famous Arena.

"Mell-low, Mell-low," the crowd chanted as he stepped to the foul line in the final seconds for a pair of free throws that helped clinch a 114-108 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, and the fans stuck around to chant it again as Anthony was being interviewed on television in the moments immediately after the game ended.

It was a night to soak in the start of what should be something special, a night when a decade of hibernation ended with the sincere sounds of hope.

And it wasn't just Anthony who was serenaded -- although he certainly was the most worthy after scoring a team-high 27 points and making a back-breaking jumper over Andrew Bogut with 27 seconds remaining.

Amare Stoudemire heard the same "M-V-P" chant he has been hearing all season, and Chauncey Billups discovered that one of the perks of having a four-syllable name is that it fits rather nicely into the cadence of a chant.

For all the Knicks gave up in the deal that brought Anthony to New York, and for all they are still lacking (you know you have a size problem when you are using Shawne Williams to defend Bogut), there was no mistaking the level of excitement that manifested itself in so many ways as Anthony's Knicks career began.

"I think New York needed a moment like this," Anthony said. "When they got Amare, it brought some excitement back to the city. Now, as Amare said, New York basketball is back. Will we win a championship this year? Who knows? That takes time. But this team is headed in the right direction, and I felt I wanted to be a part of a team that had some upside and knew what the future was holding.

"It's a dream come true for me, and I'm ready to rock."

The Knicks played with all the cohesion to be expected of a team that had been together less than a day, stumbling through even the most basic of their offensive sets and having difficulty pushing the ball in transition to set up easy scores. Their defense was lacking, too, in more ways than the size differential showed. But the moment of truth came late in the fourth quarter when the Bucks refused to go away but Stoudemire did, drawing his sixth and final foul -- and a technical foul on top of it, his 15th of the season -- for throwing his goggles toward the bench after that particular whistle with 1:01 left, a foul that allowed the Bucks to pull within four points.

The No. 1 offensive option was gone, except for one thing: Stoudemire is no longer the only No. 1 offensive option, and Anthony was there to put this one away.

With Carlos Delfino fronting him in the high post to try to prevent an entry pass, Toney Douglas (who was sensational with 23 points on 10-for-12 shooting) lobbed the ball over Delfino and into Anthony's hands, and Anthony's short jumper over Bogut's outstretched arms dropped through for a 108-102 lead.

The chanting for Anthony (and for Billups) commenced from there, and the fans -- some of whom were paying scalpers several hundred dollars for tickets on Seventh Avenue prior to the game -- kept it coming even after the ballgame ended.

The 'Bockers now have only a few hours left to try to turn the flotsam on the end of their bench (along with, presumably, $3 million of Jim "I didn't consult with Isiah" Dolan's money) into a serviceable big man to give them some semblance of a chance of actually advancing a round or two in the playoffs. And with the dearth of big men available out there (just ask Otis Smith, who has been trying to replace Marcin Gortat in Orlando for two months), it is safe to say (to paraphrase Rick Pitino) that Timofey Mozgov ain't walking through that door.

The Knicks will have to play the Mike D'Antoni offense on steroids, they are going to have to find an efficient balance between Anthony (10-for-25) and Stoudemire (6-for-13) that wasn't quite there against Milwaukee, and they are going to need someone to be an unexpected step-up player the way Douglas was Wednesday and the way Wilson Chandler had consistently been before he was dealt to Denver.

There is only one player on the roster (Douglas) who was a member of the Knicks exactly one year ago, and the product the Knicks are putting out there is not yet as well-rounded as the one that plied its trade beneath that famous circular ceiling just a week ago.

Billups, whose lack of speed was much more apparent after watching Raymond Felton become so adept at playing at a breakneck pace, is a high-end rental for the rest of this season and all of next season before max player No. 3 possibly comes aboard.

Williams, who stands 6-foot-9 but is so skinny he needs to run around in the shower to get wet, was the first big man off the bench. Bill Walker now appears to be the all-important eighth man in D'Antoni's eight-man rotation, and the team the Knicks defeated Wednesday night is about as cohesive and efficient as the Wisconsin state legislature.

So let's keep expectations in check.

Nirvana this is not.

But it was as close to nirvana as the folks who filled the building had experienced in nearly a generation, and it truly was special. It was only one game, but the manner in which the night unfolded made it one for the memory banks.

For Anthony, the most vivid memory was not what happened at the end (after all, he has made his share of back-breakers before), but what transpired at the beginning.

"Just running out that tunnel, it was different. It felt different. I usually go to the left; this time I went to the right," Anthony said. "But just running out that tunnel, and them doing that 'Welcome Home' video, and the crowd just going nuts out there, I will always remember this."

So will those who were there.

Chris Sheridan is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.

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