Despite getting back key cogs like Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, the Portland Trail Blazers were going to need a motivated Carmelo Anthony to have any chance in the NBA restart.
Even after a long layoff after the coronavirus pandemic hit, “Skinny Melo” has earned his keep thus far, delivering vital performances for his team and keeping the Blazers in the running for that elusive playoff spot out West.
His impact was evident on Tuesday, as even after struggling with his shot for most of the night, Melo found ways to be that spark Portland so badly needed against a back-from-the-dead Houston Rockets team.
The Rockets already had two late wins in the bubble and looked for their third against a shaky Blazers team that pulled away only for Houston to catch right back up.
Melo had opened the restart brightly against the Memphis Grizzlies with 21 points and seven rebounds in an overtime win, but he was hounded with five fouls in each of his first two outings in the bubble. Tuesday was a different woe, as he started 3-of-10 from the floor through the first three quarters.
It all turned around in the final 3:45 of the fourth quarter.
Melo, playing in his natural small forward spot, stole the ball from former teammate James Harden and blocked a P.J. Tucker 3-point attempt on back-to-back plays to give his team a couple vital stops.
Yet it wouldn’t be a true Carmelo Anthony fashion reel without a clutch shot to salt it away. Melo did just that with 54.6 seconds left in the game, giving Rip City a five-point cushion:
THREE TO THE DOME!#RipCity
Stream: https://t.co/V8Auxt7TzF pic.twitter.com/OVFOestHKr
— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) August 5, 2020
Anthony, who finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds, one assist, two steals, and a block in 36 minutes, was praised by his teammates for his commitment and eye for the big moment.
It was perhaps the type of eye-opening performance to put his woeful stints with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Rockets behind him and show the league there’s still something left in that gas tank after it looked like he was ready to be washed out of the NBA.
Don’t look now, but the Blazers are 1.5 games behind the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies after three bubble games and hold a slim half-game lead over the San Antonio Spurs for the ninth seed.
The way they’ve looked thus far in Orlando with a locked-in duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Portland sure look like sound candidates to sneak into the playoffs. Couple that with the return of Nurkic and a motivated Carmelo Anthony, who is earning every cent of his $2.1 million minimum deal with the Blazers this season.