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Lillard, Carmelo Come Up Big in Narrow Blazers Loss to Celtics

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Portland lost by one, but the game was still memorable for a couple of future Hall-of-Famers.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Portland Trail Blazers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers almost pulled out a win against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night. Carmelo Anthony came up big off the bench while Damian Lillard put on his customary fourth-quarter display. Sadly, Jayson Tatum and the Celtics would do them one better, eking out a 116-115 win.

Dave Deckard has the Instant Recap with your quarter-by-quarter game flow here. Here are some other things you might have missed during the nail-biting thriller.

The Dame and Melo Show

As the final score suggests, the Celtics’ 116-115 victory was a nip-and-tuck affair. Each of the Blazers’ key players chipped in hustle plays and key shots that should draw praise in the film room. But make no mistake about it: much of Portland’s offensive success came through the wrists of Damian Lillard and Carmelo Anthony.

Throughout the night, Boston worked the often-attempted strategy of trying to “ice” Damian Lillard — or keep him from getting back to the middle and into that pull-up — and Marcus Smart, most notably, did an admirable job. But down the stretch in the fourth quarter, Lillard, as he’s wont to do, fought through pain to get into a rhythm and provide Boston with a scare. On a night in which CJ McCollum was fighting his shot, Anthony stepped in as a capable sidekick.

Together, the two combined for 53 points on 19-of-38 shooting, including 21 of the Blazers’ 28 fourth quarter points. For Anthony in particular, it’s become something of a trend. That prompts an interesting question.

Has anyone else noticed how differently he scores in those prime time games with the lights on bright vs. what he does in “regular” games? It’s completely arbitrary, but it’s enough to get one thinking about writing a petition. Take a look:

Anthony in TNT or ESPN “primetime” games: 16.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 47.1 FG%, 37.5% 3P

Anthony in other, normal games: 13.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 40.7 FG%, 37.7% 3P

More off-ball opportunities for Lillard

Let’s throw in one more Lillard takeaway to watch in the long-term: one of the hidden attributes that comes with adding Norman Powell is that it gives the Blazers a tertiary ball handler to play alongside Dame and McCollum. That allows him a chance to play more off-ball, cut, and create quicker looks for himself.

In tonight’s game, Lillard created a handful of points, either solely off the threat of him cutting — or by finding a crevice in the defense and getting efficient buckets. That feels like a fantastic development worth rooting for, and not just because it promotes better ball movement. If Lillard is as injured as he sometimes seems, working those isolations and pick-and-rolls won’t be as fruitful as they often have been. He hasn’t seemed to have the same amount of speed in recent weeks, so the Blazers getting creative about his workload should be a benefit going forward. In that first half, we saw back screens that looked a bit similar to a Spain pick-and-roll and a cut on a fake post-up seal, among others.

That leads to a more minor note: it seems the Blazers could potentially be trying to find ways to manage Lillard’s load. His rest in the second quarter was much lengthier than it normally is; he checked in with just over four minutes to go in the half. Keep eyes on that going forward.

More late-game rotation confusion

The Blazers’ recent moves have afforded them the luxury of having multiple players capable of closing out a game, either offensively or defensively. Unfortunately, as tonight’s game showed, the Blazers are still struggling to put together a bona fide fourth-quarter lineup that puts teams away.

Tonight, the glaring omission down the stretch came in the form of Robert Covington, whose defense among the perimeter was one of the few positives on the night. As fate would have it, he was nowhere to be found on the floor during critical moments in the fourth. Consider this another thing to watch going forward. Who this team puts on the floor to finish games could be a make-or-break factor in the future.

Losing Against Winners

Here are some of the changes life has offered since the last time the Blazers defeated a team that entered the game with a winning record: all four No. 1 seeds remained in the NCAA March Madness Tournament, Starbucks introduced three new espresso / latte combinations, and the Brooklyn Nets only employed *five* former All-Stars. It’s been far too long.

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Box Score

The Blazers get a two-day break before preparing for a Friday night tilt against the San Antonio Spurs at 5:30 PT.