Entering the night 14 points behind Moses Malone for ninth all-time in scoring, it wasn’t unreasonable to think Carmelo Anthony might need multiple games to further bolster his resume and move one spot higher on the career points list.
Anthony, though, had no interest in meekly inching past Malone on Sunday.
The 37-year-old turned back the clock in front of the rowdy Staples Center faithful and the hosts needed every bit of his vintage performance, edging out the Grizzlies 121-118 behind 28 points from Anthony.
“Carmelo Anthony was awesome tonight,” head coach Frank Vogel said after the game. “He didn’t crawl up to that milestone. He blew the doors off of it. I’m super happy for him. He’s been a great culture fit for our group and, obviously, really playing at a high level on the floor. He’s got a lot left in the tank. He’s really going to help us this year.”
Anthony passed Malone with a pull-up 3-pointer midway through the third quarter, the second of back-to-back threes by the veteran as the Lakers were in the midst of holding off the feisty Grizzlies.
Carmelo passes Moses Malone for ninth on the NBA's all-time scoring list pic.twitter.com/TfUwVTk9c2— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) October 25, 2021
For Anthony, not just the fact he passed Malone but did so on a night the Lakers needed all of his points was part of what made the moment special.
“I keep saying this but it’s an honor, it’s a blessing,” Anthony said. “To be on that list, to pass Moses, to know what Moses did and what he did for the game of basketball, it’s hard to put it into words. I’m still here doing it. I think that’s what I’m excited about. I’m here in year 19 still doing what I’ve been able to do, still passionate about the game, still passionate about coming into work every day and getting better.
“And what better night to reach ninth than with a win on a night when we needed a win, too. Overall, this was a hell of a night.”
Even in the preseason, the spark Anthony could provide this Lakers team was apparent. But never was it more obvious — and necessary — than on Sunday. Anthony started hot against Memphis, scoring 10 points in the first half. His consecutive 3-pointers in the third quarter to push past Malone added to his tally, but he saved his best for last as he scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, none bigger than his putback with just over a minute remaining to give the Lakers a 115-112 lead.
“I think it always feels sweeter in a win and even more sweeter when it just happens organically,” James — who is second all-time in scoring — said of Anthony. “He was just playing straight up flow, rhythm basketball tonight. For him to move into ninth place all-time in scoring is special.”
After passing Malone, the Lakers congratulated Anthony at the next dead ball with a montage of memorable moments on the scoreboard. Despite Los Angeles only being his basketball home for a small handful of months, Anthony has seen how Lakers fans have embraced him.
Here’s the Lakers tribute to Carmelo Anthony after moving into ninth on the scoring list. Sellout crowd now chanting, “Melo! Melo! Melo!” pic.twitter.com/Uebsm9D6ZC— Bill Oram (@billoram) October 25, 2021
“Being here in LA and just the way that the fans embrace me,” Anthony said, “knowing the battles I’ve had here in LA and against the Lakers...and this happening in year 19, for these fans to embrace me the way they do, I have to keep going. That keeps me motivated when I have a supporting cast like I have with the fans.”
The odds are small, though not impossible, that Anthony takes another step up in the scoring list this season. After Sunday, he sits 1,173 points behind Shaquille O’Neal for eighth all-time. Anthony has not scored that many points in a season since 2017-18 in Oklahoma City.
But if turning back the clock on Sunday was any sort of precursor for the type of season Anthony could have in purple and gold (and Sunday whites), then nothing is off the table.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.