Damian Lillard Outduels James Harden as Trail Blazers Beat Rockets

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorAugust 5, 2020

Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard (0) dribbles during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)
Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

Carmelo Anthony hit a clutch three-pointer with 54.6 seconds remaining as the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Houston Rockets 110-102 on Tuesday at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida.


MELO 👌👌👌 https://t.co/kBVbHmtgny

Rockets guard Russell Westbrook's dunk tied the game at 100 with 4:06 remaining.


WESTBROOK SLAM! 1-point game under 2 to play on TNT. #WholeNewGame https://t.co/S5SaQmm5uU

However, Blazers guard Gary Trent Jr.'s three-pointer with 2:53 left gave Portland the lead for good.

Houston guard James Harden cut the lead to one off a layup with 2:14 remaining, but the Rockets would not get any closer.

A few empty possessions on both ends and a Damian Lillard free throw led to Melo's three, which put Portland up 107-102.

Lillard scored 21 points, leading five Blazers with 15 or more. He also finished just one rebound and two dimes shy of a triple-double. Jusuf Nurkic dropped an 18-point, 19-rebound double-double.

Harden scored 23 to lead all scorers. Jeff Green scored 22 points off the Rockets bench thanks in part to five three-pointers.


Notable Performances

Rockets G James Harden: 23 PTS, 9 AST, 6 REB

Rockets G Russell Westbrook: 15 PTS, 9 AST, 3 REB

Rockets F/C Jeff Green: 22 PTS, 6 REB

Trail Blazers PG Damian Lillard: 21 PTS, 9 REB, 8 AST

Trail Blazers G CJ McCollum: 20 PTS, 7 REB, 5 AST

Trail Blazers C Jusuf Nurkic: 18 PTS, 19 REB, 3 AST, 3 BLK

Trail Blazers F Carmelo Anthony: 15 PTS, 11 REB


Clutch Carmelo Anthony Delivers

The Portland Trail Blazers have gone through a gauntlet to begin their NBA restart.

They opened with a 140-135 overtime win over the Memphis Grizzlies, who own the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot that the Blazers are currently chasing. Then they nearly picked off the favored Boston Celtics, who are third in the Eastern Conference.

Then another tough battle emerged in the form of the Rockets, who had just come off a victory over the owner of the NBA's best win-loss record in the Milwaukee Bucks.

Portland passed this one, and it's thanks in large part to Carmelo Anthony, who has rejuvenated his career in the Pacific Northwest.

Anthony finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds and nailed a three-pointer that gave Portland the cushion it needed to take this game. He came up big in the win over Memphis as well with 21 points on just 10 shots in addition to seven rebounds.

The 36-year-old Anthony is in his 17th NBA season, but he looks better now than he has at any point since he played for the New York Knicks in 2016-17. That's likely in part because he clearly gets along with his teammates, a fact made evident in Lillard's postgame interview. Of note, he strongly backed the veteran's Hall of Fame candidacy:

Royce Young @royceyoung

Damian Lillard on Carmelo Anthony: I find it real funny and disrespectful how people speak on him. He's a Hall of Famer." https://t.co/GDzNOO57Rt

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Melo a HOFer in Dame’s book 💯 https://t.co/JvVwnPGRfG

He also called Anthony a "great teammate," and the chemistry between the two is clearly there as the Portland offense goes blow for blow in these critically important restart games where every contest is a quasi-playoff game for a team like the Blazers, who are fighting hard for that final playoff spot.

Jamie Hudson of NBC Sports Northwest ultimately put it best:

Jamie Hudson @JamieHudsonNBCS

The value of Carmelo Anthony down the stretch of these seeding games cannot be overstated.

Anthony's three-pointer with 37.5 seconds remaining in regulation against the Grizz helped pushed that game into overtime, where Portland dominated and won. His three Tuesday was the dagger that sent Houston packing.

If Anthony misses those two shots, we're potentially talking about the Blazers playing out the string of a lost season one year after making the Western Conference Finals.

Instead, Portland is in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race and would be in position to participate in the play-in tournament against Memphis if the season ended today.

The Blazers have the clutch Anthony to thank for that, who is clearly excelling both on and off the court with his new teammate as he tacks on another successful chapter in his Hall of Fame-worthy career.


Poor Shooting, Blazers' Size Doom Rockets

There's no need to panic in Houston after a tough loss to a seemingly inferior team. Sure, the Rockets are guaranteed to make the playoffs, and the Blazers still have a road to climb just to get there, but the Tuesday defeat isn't symbolic of some deep structural issue that the team needs to fix.

The bottom line is this: The Rockets know who they are, and that's a small-ball team that shoots three-pointers any chance it can get. Most of the time, that plan works very well and can help them topple the league's best teams.

Other times, teams are able to exploit the Rockets' lack of size, and perhaps some cold shooting, and pull off the win.

The Blazers did both Tuesday, out-rebounding Houston 64-39 and outscoring them 44-29 in the paint. Houston also shot just 39.1 percent from the field, and that included some rough fourth-quarter numbers, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Jonathan Feigen @Jonathan_Feigen

Loads of issues along the way, but Rockets went 3 of 14 on 3s, 3 of 7 from the line in the fourth quarter. Not winning down the stretch that way.

And yet, the Rockets were tied with the Blazers at 100 with three minutes left. Almost nothing went right after that point, with Trent and Anthony hitting three-pointers and the Rockets only scoring one bucket down the stretch.

But the fact that the Rockets were even in a game where they never led by more than one point is an impressive feat in itself, especially with the team missing shooting guard Eric Gordon to an ankle injury for the first three restart games.

Ultimately, Houston has proved to be a tough out for any NBA team, and that should be a serious problem in the NBA postseason for its opposition.


What's Next?

Both teams will play Thursday.

The 42-25 Rockets will face the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET, and the 31-38 Blazers will battle the Denver Nuggets at 8 p.m. ET.