The Portland Trail Blazers' push towards the playoffs got a big boost tonight after sneaking home with a 110-102 win over the Houston Rockets, to move to a 2-1 record in Orlando.
Damian Lillard led five players in double figures with 21 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists, but it was Carmelo Anthony who proved to be the hero, knocking down another clutch 3-pointer to ice the game.
With the win, the Blazers take sole possession of the ninth seed, moving to within 1.5 games of the Memphis Grizzlies in eighth.
Here are some key observations from tonight's game:
Carmelo = clutch
After coming up clutch in their opening seeding game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Carmelo Anthony was at it again, burying a 3-pointer with 54.6 seconds remaining to put the Blazers up five.
MELO 👌👌👌 pic.twitter.com/kBVbHmtgny- NBA (@NBA) August 5, 2020
Anthony finished with a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 5-of14 from the field and 2-of-4 from the 3-point line, doing what many envisaged when he joined the Blazers as another offensive weapon to compliment Lillard and CJ McCollum..
"I mean, he's a Hall of Famer," Lillard said of Anthony's performance.
"I think it's more disappointing that people are surprised by it. He's a Hall of Famer, like I said. He's a great teammate and that's what we expect from him."
"We put him in those positions because we expect him to make those shots. We believe he's going to make those shots and we brought him here because we knew he would make a difference for our team and he's been doing that."
"No surprises here, we expect that from him and I'm glad that he's here to come through for us in those big situations."
Lillard was unable to get it going in the first half but came to life when it mattered, scoring 17 of his 21 points in the second half, including eight in the fourth quarter.
Dame makes it look too easy 🤧- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) August 5, 2020
Get to TNT for the 4th QTR of Rockets/Trail Blazers! pic.twitter.com/YuUTospDwB
Blazers' size advantage pays dividends
The Rockets' small lineup was up against it as the Blazers put their big bodies to work, with the trio of Zach Collins, Jusuf Nurkic, and Hassan Whiteside taking advantage in the paint.
The Blazers outrebounded the Rockets 64-39 and 15-5 on the offensive glass, with the trio creating second-chance opportunities and several easy buckets throughout.
The Rockets can usually live with those numbers, but on a night when their three-ball wasn't firing (19-of-53), the Blazers made them pay.
AND-1 💪@youngwhiteside | #RipCity pic.twitter.com/msGolLqocd- Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) August 5, 2020
Nurkic led the charge inside with 18 points, 19 rebounds, three assists, and three blocks, while Whiteside finished with nine points and seven rebounds, and Collins had eight points and seven rebounds.
Harden and Westbrook struggle down the stretch
So far in Orlando, the Rockets' backcourt of James Harden and Russell Westbrook has been firing on all cylinders, but the Blazers' defensive effort, especially down the stretch caused them plenty of headaches.
Harden picked up his fifth foul with 5:06 left in the third quarter and didn't return till the 8:37 mark of the fourth quarter. He finished the game with 23 points on 7-of-17 from the field, while Westbrook managed 15 points and nine assists on 5-of-14 from the field.
The Rockets trailed for most of the game but were within striking distance late, however, as a team they shot just 2-of-10 from the field in the final five minutes.
With their star duo struggling, a duo of role players picked up the slack with Jeff Green finishing with 22 points and Danuel House Jr. 17, but too often the Rockets failed to capitalize when Harden was double-teamed, missing several open looks from beyond the arc.
Rockets have to make defenses pay for the doubles on Harden. They are creating good looks but not punishing the defense for doing it. Defenses are feeling "we'll live" a little bit more than Houston would like. Blazers trap Harden here, Covington is open, swings to House, misses. pic.twitter.com/t1Xk4HiZiw- Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) August 5, 2020
Robert Covington shot 2-of-11 from the field and P.J. Tucker shot 2-of-7.
Both teams hit the court again on Thursday, with the Rockets (42-25) taking on the Los Angeles Lakers, while the Blazers (31-38) face the Denver Nuggets.
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