HOUSTON — Last season, the Rockets evidently saw all they needed to from Carmelo Anthony in just 10 games, cutting the 6-8 forward less than a month into the 2018-19 campaign.
Wednesday night in his return to Houston, they probably saw more of Melo than they would have liked.
The veteran forward in his 17th season made his first five shots before finishing with a double-double to help the Trail Blazers beat the Rockets 117-107 in front of a sellout crowd of 18,055 Wednesday night at the Toyota Center.
“We wanted it tonight,” said Anthony. “We had a great game plan, we stuck to it, guys was on the same accord. We were locked in defensively, we were locked in offensively and we stuck to it tonight. This was a game that we felt like we could come in here and get, and we did that.”
With the win, easily Portland’s best of the season, the Trail Blazers are now 18-24 overall and 9-14 on the road this season. Portland currently sits at 10th in the Western Conference, 2.5 games behind the Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot.
After a nip and tuck first quarter that saw seven lead changes, six ties and neither team going up my more than two possessions, the Trail Blazers were able to get the first real separation of the game midway through the second quarter. Between Anthony punishing the Rockets in the post and CJ McCollum scoring at all three levels, the Blazers went on an 11-4 run to take a 58-45 lead with 2:03 to play in the first half.
“I just wanted to take advantage of the switches and just the post,” said Anthony. “I knew they was gonna let me play one-on-one down there in the block so I wanted to take advantage of that. I was just being patient down there, taking my time.”
With 13 first-half points apiece from Anthony and McCollum, the Blazers were able to take a 13-point lead into the intermission, though holding James Harden to just eight points on six attempts was arguably just as important.
“We just played with a lot of effort,” said Damian Lillard. “Guys picking (Harden) up full court, sending double teams at him, blitzing him. We gave him a lot of attention and we pretty much just made him give the ball up to other guys, pretty much decided we gonna live with somebody else beating up. It turned out to be a pretty good game plan.”
After Anthony and McCollum handled the scoring in the first half, it was Lillard’s turn to take charge in the third quarter. The 6-3 guard misses his first five shots Wednesday night, but came out on fire to start the second half, going 5-of-7 from the field and 6-of-6 from there free throw line for 16 points in the third quarter.
Both teams finishing the quarter with 30 points resulting in the Trail Blazers taking the same 13-point lead they started the second half with into the fourth and final quarter.
The Rockets, playing on the second night of a back-to-back, had one more rally left in them, going on a 9-1 run that cut Portland’s lead to 103-97 with 6:02 to play in regulation. But a few minutes later, McCollum and Anthony would make back-to-back threes to push the lead back to 11 with just over four minutes to play, giving Portland more than enough of a cushion to come away with their fifth win this season versus a team better than .500.
“We dug ourselves quite the hole with inconsistent play, injuries, bad losses, lots of losses in a row,” said McCollum. “This was a game we needed to win. We need to win every game honestly going forward, but games like tonight – when you get a lead, you have to hold onto it, try to extend it. We did that tonight.”
Portland had five players finish in double figures led by Lillard, who scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half while also logging seven assists, seven rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes.
Anthony went 7-of-10 from the field to finish with 18 points while also grabbing 12 rebounds for the double-double in 34 minutes. The veteran said after the game that the way his time ended in Houston didn’t give him any additional motivation Wednesday night.
“Kind of got past all of that the time that I was off,” said Anthony. “The time that I did have to kind of think about that situation, I already dealt with every emotion you could think about trying to figure out why, questioning myself at the beginning, working so hard to get past that and kind of be at peace with it.”
McCollum shot both 50 percent from the field and from three to finish with 24 points and six assists in 38 minutes. Kent Bazemore added 12 points, nine rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes.
Hassan Whiteside also contributed a double-double with 18 points and 17 rebounds while also blocking two shots.
Russell Westbrook led all scorers with 31 points while also adding 12 assists and 11 rebounds for the triple-double in the losing effort.
Next up, the Trail Blazers head to Dallas to face the Mavericks in another nationally-televised game Friday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.