Brawl full of Melo drama

Stand and fight,you coward. You’re the NBA’s leading scorer and supposed to be one of the faces of the league’s new generation. But now you wanna be a tough guy? You’d rather play the thug role? Then don’t hit and run, coward. Stand and fight.

It’s hard to declare a winner in Saturday night’s “Who can be the biggest punk?” contest at Madison Square Garden. The front runner was certainly New York’s Mardy Collins, whose two-handed clothesline hit on Denver’s streaking J.R. Smith would have made Jack Tatum proud.

Certainly Nate Robinson would get some votes, for his WWE-style flexing and gesticulating that escalated the violence after the Collins cheap shot on Smith.

An even stronger case can be made for Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, who all but ordered the hit on Smith. Considering Zeke’s warning to Carmelo Anthony to not go near the paint in the fourth quarter, followed by his “Your starters shouldn’t even have been out there” complaint to Anthony afterwards, it’s clear who gave the Knicks’ Hit Squad their marching orders. Thomas has a history of orchestrating assaults on opposing players, as he also ordered his players to break Bruce Bowens’ foot earlier this season. Thomas felt that the San Antonio guard intentionally stuck his foot beneath New York jump-shooters and added later that he would “beat the [expletive] out of somebody … really, I would murder them.”

But Saturday night’s award has to go to Denver’s Anthony, who proved that adding a few points per game to his scoring average this season hasn’t made him any less of a thug. Or a coward.

Carmelo, who has already been busted for pot possession in his brief career, and who made his “acting” debut in a drug dealer’s video, reached a new low by reaching out to Collins — with a right hand to the jaw. As the brawl was subsiding under the Nuggets’ basket, with players being separated and taking their deep breaths of composure, Anthony sucker-punched Collins with an open-handed right hook. Collins went down, but before he even hit the floor, an outraged Jared Jeffries went after Anthony.

So how did the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Anthony react when the 6-11, 240-pound Jeffries came at him? Did he stand his ground and take the Knicks’ forward head-on, as any man who throws a punch at an unsuspecting, defenseless man should? No. When faced with an angry opponent who is actually prepared for the battle, Carmelo ran. He ran like a scared little girl and didn’t stop backpedaling until he hit the Holland Tunnel to New Jersey.

Anthony’s sucker-punch-and-run was the most gutless display of false-bravado since former Dodger Guillermo Mota drilled Mike Piazza with a pitch in spring training, then threw his glove at him and ran for the dugout when Piazza charged the mound.

Maybe Anthony was angry because he heard Thomas’ warning about going into the paint and then watched the hard foul he expected materialize before his eyes. Perhaps he had a right to defend his teammate after the threat was made and carried out and he lashed out in justifiable rage. But if he was so determined to mete out punishment to Collins in the form of a wild punch with bad intentions, then where was that determination when he ran from the retaliation like a Democrat from a war?

Give Collins five games for the assault on Smith, and Robinson five for touching off the brawl. Give Thomas 10 for ordering the hit, but most importantly, give 20 to Carmelo: 10 for the sucker punch and 10 for being a straight-up sissy about it.

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