Damian Lillard scored 21 points and Carmelo Anthony hit a big 3-pointer late to help the Portland Trail Blazers to a 110-102 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night.
The Blazers led by one before Lillard made one of two free throws. Anthony’s three then extended the lead to 107-102 when less than a minute to go.
Lillard raved about the contributions of Anthony, who found a home with the Trail Blazers after spending several months without a team last year following a brief stint with the Rockets.
“I think it’s more disappointing that people are surprised by it,” Lillard said. “He’s a Hall of Famer … he’s a great teammate and that’s what we expect from him.”
Coach Terry Stotts loves how Anthony has evolved to help his team.
“Earlier in his career, the ball would have been in his hands to start with,” Stotts said. “He has assimilated to his role and this team. He loves the game. He loves the camaraderie, he loves being in the NBA.”
Lillard added two free throws and Anthony, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds, made one in the final minute to secure the victory for Portland, which is fighting for a playoff spot.
“We understand what’s on the line and we know what we got to do to to give ourselves a chance in the postseason,” Lillard said. “And that’s what we’re doing.”
James Harden led Houston with 23 points and nine assists on a night he was slowed by foul trouble.
“I couldn’t be as aggressive as I wanted to being in foul trouble,” he said. “But we had a lot of open shots that if we make those those it’s a different ballgame.”
Jeff Green added a season-high 22 points as the Rockets lost for the first time in the bubble after winning their first two games.
The Blazers were up by six midway through the final quarter after CJ McCollum and Lillard made consecutive baskets. But Green scored all Houston’s points in a 7-1 spurt that tied it at 98 a minute later.
McCollum finished with 20 points as the Blazers pulled within 1 1/2 games of eighth-place Memphis.
“Our biggest problem with the whole game is first of all we didn’t come out with a lot of energy, and our defense was pretty slow to start,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said.
The game was tied again later in the fourth when Gary Trent Jr. made a 3-pointer to put Portland up 103-100. A driving layup by Harden cut the lead to one with about 2 minutes to go.
Danuel House made a 3-pointer to get the Rockets within two midway through the third quarter. Lillard then scored all of Portland’s points in a 9-3 run that pushed the lead to 82-74 with about 3 1/2 minutes left in the third.
Lillard had a three-point play and then sank 3s on consecutive possessions to allow the Trail Blazers to build the lead. Harden spent the last five minutes of the third quarter on the bench after picking up his fifth foul on the three-point play by Lillard.
Hassan Whiteside had four points for the Trail Blazers late in the third, but Austin Rivers capped the quarter with a 3-pointer to get Houston within 86-80 to start the fourth.