It was a different looking scene on Wednesday night at Moda Center.
The Trail Blazers took it to the Oklahoma City Thunder, beating OKC 136-119, and just like they always do after a victory, the Blazers went to midcourt for a quick team huddle.
But this time, as the red and white streamers fell around the Moda Center, the first Blazer with his hand raised high in the air to lead the team huddle was Carmelo Anthony.
Melo was front and center at midcourt and is now front and center on Trail Blazers fans’ minds.
Even before tip-off, Rip City was showing love to their newest player.
And boy did the 10-time All-Star give fans plenty to cheer about.
In his home debut, Melo finished with 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting, four rebounds and two assists.
Shooting 81.8 percent from the field is the highest field goal percentage in a single game in Anthony’s entire career, in games which he took more than two shots.
A whopping 81.8 percent and that came in front of his new home crowd.
“My first home game here at the Moda Center here in Portland. I’m still trying to find my way through this whole thing, this whole situation, but I thought the fans was incredible tonight. The support that they showed for myself, I mean it’s always for the team in general, but, just to be a part of this atmosphere, on the other side of it, rather than being on the opposing team, but being able to just feel that support and that communication from the fans like that goes a long way,” Melo said.
Chants of “Melo!” “Melo!” “Melo!” rang through the arena when Anthony was subbed out at the 9:15 mark of the fourth quarter.
The 35-year-old admitted the fans chanting surprised him, but he believes the chants were because Blazer faithful knows how much it means for him to be back on the court.
“I think people just see how genuine this is for me… It’s nothing fake, it’s authentic, this is who I am, this is genuine, this is real love at the end of the day, and I think people can sense it when it’s not.”
For the Blazers team captain, Damian Lillard, he enjoyed hearing and seeing the buzz from the crowd when Melo got the ball.
Lillard also mentioned how being a small market team, Blazers fans don’t get superstars to come to Portland, until now.
“Like I’ve been saying, it’s fun to see. In Portland, we don’t get that. You know what I mean? It’s just like, we’ve got another mega star, hall of famer come here and the fans are excited about it, as they should be. I think it’s a point in his career where he needs that type of support. He needs people behind him and to feel good about what he’s doing so it was great to witness. We all want to be a part of his comeback. We want to see it work out. We want to see him get the respect that he’s due so to see how the crowd responded to him, it’s really good to see and be a part of and it’s also something like a spark and some energy that our team needed. It’s fun to see.”
The Trail Blazers got out to a quick start versus the Thunder, hitting their first 10 shots on their way to a season high 42 points in the first quarter.
Melo pointed out after the game the he thinks his teammates are becoming “more relaxed” now having previously played alongside him for four games.
“When I first got here last week and met those guys in New Orleans… I think it was the hype of, the excitement of me coming to the team, guys not really knowing how this was going to play out… How I was going to fit it in. I think now everybody is just at ease and everybody is just doing what they do best, playing basketball.”
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts knows how important having Anthony join the team has meant for them to be able to space the floor a lot more.
“The thing about Melo is that you feel his presence on the court, you know he’s out there, you have to account for him, he gives us a different dimension at the offensive end that we’re able to take advantage of. He draws a lot of attention, he’s a willing passer, he’s a very good passer, and I think the more we're able to do that, the more the other four guys on the court can rely on him.”
There’s no doubt the Trail Blazers are going to continue to rely on Melo and they’re going to continue to rely on the Moda Center crowd to help them make a push in turning their record around with 11 of their next 15 games at home.