The NBA’s restart has seen its fair share of close games and so have Portland Trail Blazers fans.
Sunday’s game once again came down to the final seconds, but this time it was against the shorthanded Philadelphia 76ers.
However, in this one, the Blazers made stops when they needed to, and they made clutch free throws.
For future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony, that ‘rush’ of feeling needed by a team late in games is “absolutely” still a feeling that comes over the 36-year-old.
Absolutely. That doesn’t go anywhere, when you put the work in and you believe that you should be out there at those moments and your comfortable in those moments, those are just normal moments for myself, being comfortable in those situations and those moments down the stretch, being able to have your teammates rely on you to make plays, they expect that... They expect me to make the plays that I make, make the shots that I make, and they have the confidence in me to do those things. -- Trail Blazers veteran Carmelo Anthony
Those 'moments down the stretch' from Melo were key on Sunday.
Thanks to Melo’s corner three with 4:08 to go along with his big-time defensive rebounds late in the game, and his final defensive stop on Josh Richardson, Anthony showed his veteran leadership and mentality to never quit was just what the Blazers needed following Saturday’s loss.
The final 10.2 seconds of Sunday’s 124-121 win over Philadelphia were intense to say the least.
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts gave credit to the Sixers role players postgame, saying that Josh Richardson “was outstanding.”
Coach Stotts also talked at length about how much Damian Lillard’s 'on a mission' mentality and his ability to deal with last-second pressure meant to the Blazers.
Lillard finished with 51 points and seven assists in the victory.
Even though the Blazers haven’t been getting many stops on the defensive end throughout the seeding games, Anthony came up with a huge stop in the final play of the game.
With the Blazers up 124-121, the Sixers had 10.2 seconds to tie up the game after taking a timeout, but, Josh Richardson missed a 25-foot three-pointer with Melo's swarming defense.
“I thought everybody was locked in. [Melo] was aggressive on Richardson, made it difficult for him, and made him take a tough shot," Stotts said. "I thought everybody was locked in. It wasn’t pretty, but they didn’t score."
Coach Stotts had plenty more to say about his wily veteran.
His experience – his communication – he’s been in these moments and he has good ideas and good suggestions for players and coaches, but he’s been at it a long time… I think having him in these moments, he's shown here in the bubble how important he is in those moments. -- Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts
Melo’s fourth-quarter performance at both ends, along with him moving up to No. 15 on the all-time scoring list, earned him the game ball.
Anthony finished with 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting, including 2-of-4 from deep.
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Melo did come up limping after that stop on Richardson, but, not to worry, the 17-year veteran said he’s all good after the win.
“I’m bumped knees with Richardson. But, I’ll be alright,” Melo said.
Anthony and Lillard can't get all the credit for the Blazers’ success down the stretch (but most of the credit).
Let’s go back to the 10.2 second mark of the fourth.
Jusuf Nurkic calmly stepped up and hit two free throws with 10.2 seconds remaining to put the Blazers up 124-121 after the Sixers were forced to foul Nurk near mid-court with time winding down.
“Nurk came through in the clutch with two key free throws,” Stotts said.
Nurkic also played through some aches and pains as well as foul trouble.
The Trail Blazers 7-footer most likely should've sat out of Sunday's game because, of course, most players who come back from a big injury do not play in both games of a back-to-back.
But, Nurk played because he knew his team needed him with Hassan Whiteside out due to a left hip strain.
“As much as I’ve been preparing myself for the last 14 plus months, I was not prepared for a back-to-back,” Nurkic said. “I didn’t even know if I wanted to play, but… Whiteside was injured, so after that loss [Saturday], I couldn’t afford to not play… So tried to fight through and I’m glad we win this one. Whatever it takes. Our season is on the line right now and we can’t afford no more losses.”
Whatever it takes.
Nurkic knows that has to be the Blazers mindset, as does Portland's team captain, who is even more thankful to have his pick-and-roll partner in crime back on the court.
He’s extremely important and he’s coming off a major injury. He hadn’t played in over a year and then we have a hiatus and everybody’s back and now we’re all rusty, and after the first two games I forgot that these were his first few games because he just looked like himself and then you add to that, that we’re on a back-to-back tonight… This morning at walk-through, he was like, ‘I’m sore. I don't really feel good, but I’m going to be out there, we’ve got to get it done.’ And that’s the kind of person he is. That’s the kind of teammate he is and that’s why I think our team is different now. -- Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard on Jusuf Nurkic
Lillard had nine straight points late in the fourth to go along with Nurkic icing the game with his free throws.
Throw in Melo’s ability to come up with a big play at either end and that’s a recipe the Blazers must use moving forward, especially if Portland is going to continue a trend of close games in the bubble during the home stretch of seeding games.
With Sunday’s win, the Blazers still have a shot at reaching the No. 8 seed depending on their own results and if the Grizzlies take care of business or not.
There's no doubt that these final moments of the seeding games is giving everyone that 'rush' feeling.