Olympic 'Melo is the NBA's Bigfoot. Every now and then, it looks like we've finally spotted a version of Carmelo Anthony capable of helping a winning team as a 3-point marksman that doesn't need to monopolize the ball, but he vanishes as soon as he appears. He took the right shots in Houston, but was banished after 11 games because he was missing them. He started making his shots again in Portland, but not without plenty of isolations and jab steps in the picture.
But on Friday, we finally saw it. Hard and fast evidence that Olympic 'Melo does, in fact, exist on the NBA stage in the context of high-stakes basketball. His Portland Trail Blazers played against the Memphis Grizzlies in what amounted to a pseudo playoff game. Portland entered the day stuck in the morass of possible Western Conference No. 9 seeds, 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies with an absolutely brutal schedule ahead of them in Orlando. A loss, given that schedule and the easy one in front of the New Orleans Pelicans, may have doomed their playoff chances.
Enter, 'Melo. Down two with a minute and a half remaining, a desperate Zach Collins kicked the ball out to a wide-open Anthony, who knocked down the corner 3-pointer to put Portland up by one.
Memphis took the lead back, and with 40 seconds remaining, the Blazers leaned on Carmelo again. Down one, Damian Lillard attacked the basket before throwing it back out to C.J. McCollum, who swung it to Anthony in the corner for yet another dagger.
The Blazers ultimately won in overtime, and Carmelo, despite 21 points on 70 percent shooting, was still only his team's third-leading scorer. That is precisely the point, though. Lillard and McCollum ultimately led the way, and their overtime dominance was the clincher. But Anthony, in a supplementary role, was able to come up clutch when he was needed. He took advantage of the work that his superior teammates were doing to take and make winning shots. Isn't that what we've wanted out of Anthony for his entire career?
Realistically, Carmelo doesn't have that much more time left in professional basketball. Whether this is his final season or not, at 36-years-old, his time is running short, and his defensive limitations will likely prevent him from ever playing a major role on a true championship contender again. But this game had genuine stakes. Portland now has a two-win cushion over New Orleans and has cut Memphis' lead for the No. 8 seed down to only 2.5 games. Even if they don't jump up to No. 8, the win puts them in pole position for a play-in at No. 9.
That wouldn't have been the case without Carmelo's performance. Anthony went unsigned for the better part of a year specifically because the league thought he was incapable of occupying the role that he played on Friday. In what was functionally a playoff game, he was a model role player. If only for a day, the NBA saw its sasquatch. Olympic 'Melo made a difference in an important NBA game. It may not be a championship, but if Anthony's goal this season was to prove that he was still capable of helping a good team win big games, Friday's performance was the cherry on top of his comeback campaign.