OKLAHOMA CITY -- Putting his head down and wiping his hands across the front of his jersey, Carmelo Anthony walked slowly off the court toward the tunnel after missing a potential game-tying 3 at the buzzer against the Portland Trail Blazers in a 108-105 loss on Sunday.
It bookended what has been a tough week for Anthony, beginning Tuesday in Boston with two misses at the free throw line that would've iced a win and ending with a brutal stretch against the Blazers that featured back-to-back, wide-open, 3-point misses, a turnover with seven seconds left and the final 3 before the buzzer.
"I had two previous to that shot, two open looks, shots that I would take at any moment, on any night," Anthony said. "To get those three looks that I got, two back-to-back, then one to send the game to overtime, can't ask for any better looks than that.
"When you look back at it, I think when you look at it as a whole, you see the Boston game, then tonight missing three 3s down the stretch, as an individual that's made those shots before, it's tough to look at, and you always question yourself of what happened or didn't happen, but you can't beat yourself up about it."
Anthony finished the game 3-of-13 from the field, including 0-of-5 from 3 as the Thunder missed an opportunity to move closer to the 3-seed. Instead, the Thunder fall three games back of Portland in the loss column and lose the season series against the Blazers 0-4.
"We know we needed to get this one," Paul George said. "That was all I'm sure in everybody's mind that we needed to win this one. But we know it's going to be a tough stretch. We knew that going into the winning streak, coming out of losing a couple now. We knew we were going to have a tough finish, and we were going to need every game. That's still the outlook we've got right now."
Anthony has struggled this season as he has undergone a significant role adjustment. With the Thunder, he has been asked to become a catch-and-shoot specialist, playing off Russell Westbrook and George as a stretch option, often becoming the fourth offensive option any given night. He's averaging a career-low 16.5 points per game on a career-low 40.3 percent shooting.
"Listen, Carmelo didn't shoot the ball particularly well, but he's shot the ball well his whole entire career. I felt really good about the shots that he got," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "Carmelo is a proven scorer in this league and has made shots, big shots, for a large portion of his career, and I've got confidence in him. So we're going to go with him in that situation. That's just how I felt."
With 6:25 left, Donovan subbed Anthony in for Jerami Grant, who had 17 points in 19 minutes. It was a tough spot for Donovan, choosing the 10-time All-Star over what appeared to be a more straightforward matchup solution to the Blazers' spread pick-and-roll attack. Anthony's missing critical looks down the stretch only elevated that line of thinking.
"For me, I just really felt like coming down the stretch, like we've done all games, he's a guy, in my opinion, [who] needs to be out there for our team," Donovan said. "I think to discredit what he's done for our team the entire year, the sacrifices he's made, the way he's worked, I just got a lot of confidence and belief in him. And I know he'll be better from this. But just to sit there and say, 'OK, he's not getting it done.' And just to yank him out and sit him, you'd be asking me, 'Why was he sitting?' That would be the next question. So I believe in Carmelo. I think Carmelo has been an unbelievable team guy."
"I had two previous to that shot, two open looks, shots that I would take at any moment, on any night. To get those three looks that I got, two back-to-back, then one to send the game to overtime, can't ask for any better looks than that."Carmelo Anthony
Much of the focus following the game was on Anthony, but the Thunder were hurt down the stretch by some superb shot-making by CJ McCollum (34 points on 14-of-24 shooting) and on the defensive glass as Portland capitalized on a few long rebounds, with Damian Lillard drilling a huge 3 after a miss to put the Blazers up two with 40 seconds to go.
Anthony wasn't the only one who struggled shooting, as George hit just 4-of-15 from the floor, including 0-of-7 from 3. George was on his way to the best shooting season of his career but has hit a significant slump as of late, hitting just 30 percent from 3 in March.
"Just been a brutal stretch," George said. "Just been a brutal stretch. I've been getting great looks. Same shots I was getting before the All-Star break. It'll turn. It'll turn. I'm not worried. Statistically, I've always had a bad stretch in my career shooting the ball, but I've always came out on the better end. I've just got to stick with it."
Still, as it has been for much of his career, the focus was on Anthony and his failures. He was clearly feeling the weight of the misses after the game, sitting for an extended period of time at his locker looking at his phone. There's typically an unofficial order of operations among OKC's stars postgame, with Westbrook talking to reporters first, then Anthony, then George. After Sunday's game, Anthony hadn't even made his way to the showers by the time Westbrook and George were leaving the locker room.
"I'm not gonna let this linger," he said. "You get those looks that I was able to get, I won't beat myself up about that. I won't do that.
"I think now you kind of reflect back on it, what you did, and what you didn't do. The shots you were able to control. Once I go back home and look at the game tonight, I'm pretty sure it'll be some other things we didn't do as a team that led to us losing this game."