It didn’t seem likely after an ice-cold start to their third Summer League game, but thanks to a tightened defensive effort and a balanced scoring effort, the Portland Trail Blazers proved successful in turning a 13-0 deficit into an 88-77 victory over the New York Knicks, a 24-point turnaround.
The Blazers weren’t short on standouts, perhaps none more noticeable than Trendon Watford. Taking the aggression right back to a physical Knicks defence, the soon-to-be-second-year-big led the way with 18 points and six rebounds. Right behind him, second-round pick Jabari Walker continued his fantastic play with 16 points (on just eight shots) and 13 rebounds. Three other Blazers — Craig Randall II, Keon Johnson and Brandon Williams — scored in double figures, helping Portland move to 2-1 in Summer League play.
Here’s perhaps the best way to start (the recap, not the game): it took the Trail Blazers nearly six minutes to get their first field goal. With that long-term perspective in mind, the likes of Trendon Watford and Brandon Williams command some credit for getting the wheels turning with aggressive takes to the basket. It fit a familiar theme with this group: whenever they can’t get a bucket, they can at least get to the free throw line. This proved beneficial with their shot selection being occasionally spotty.
Though, thanks to an offensive barrage anchored by Feron Hunt, Miles McBride and Quentin Grimes, the Knicks had opened up a 13-0 lead before the Blazers could see the ball go through the net. A mixture of overhelping and the Knicks’ accuracy proved costly for the Blazers. One team scored 24 in the opening frame; the other struggled to shoot 24 percent. As a result, Portland had an uphill climb, trailing 24-9 after one.
It could be that the officiating debut of Richard Jefferson provided some sort of good omen for the Blazers. Immediately upon his arrival, Portland opened up an eventual 19-4 run, anchored by selfless play from that second unit. Portland also went with a zone to stifle the Knicks’ rhythm.
Jabari Walker, a strong candidate to be one of the Blazers’ final roster spot occupants, impressed again, though he wasn’t alone. Craig Randall put that “hand down, man down” theory to the rest with a couple of smooth left-handed triples and the rest of that group followed his lead.
After an occasionally-shaky Summer League opener, Watford was impressive. It’s hard to say whether or not he’s picked up muscle, but his bulldozer-type drive against the bigs before shifting into his signature floater is a strong mix of strength and skill. He was among the focal points in this second quarter, operating from the top of the key, helping set up movement, etc. Through teamwork, they forced an eventual tie.
As Portland looked to transition from tying the game to taking the lead, one thing you would’ve liked to see is for a few of Brandon Williams’ three-pointers to drop. His speed and ability to generate whistles make him a threat in any situation, though, after shooting under 30 percent on 106 attempts — and one-for-nine heading into this game — seeing a few more of those drop felt like something to watch. Nevertheless, you look up at the box score moments later … he’s the second-leading scorer.
Finally easing their way into the game and adjusting to the physicality, the young Blazers, within ten minutes, turned the 15-point deficit into a 37-36 lead.
Two trends were beginning to develop throughout the competitive third quarter: (1) the Blazers were creative in their ways of continuing to disrupt the Knicks’ flow, working the occasional zone and even a full-court press.
The second: Trendon Watford and Quentin Grimes appeared deadlocked in a duel to see who could be the most impactful player in Las Vegas at 10:00 pm (This probably sounds like a SportsCenter stat). The two of them traded highlights, one from the outside, the other along the interior. Jericho Sims of the Knicks made a cameo with some eye-popping plays — the kinds of plays where you have to remind yourself who you’re rooting for — and the two of them helped the Knicks regain a slight advantage.
Among some other brief notes: the Blazers’ defensive effort and rotations to close this quarter were brilliant, with the likes of George King, Walker, Kyle Alexander, Randall II, and Colbey Ross working perfectly in-sync. Using a feisty 10-3 run to close out the period, Portland held a 59-57 edge going into the fourth.
It’s likely you found yourself watching the fourth quarter with a smile, watching the Blazers piece together competent plays on both ends to kickstart the fourth. The Randall-Ross-Alexander grouping each added to their highlight reels, though, in considering Portland’s more immediate outlook, Jabari Walker’s mini-takeover to begin the quarter will be worth talking about.
Walker, calm and collected, rose up to drain a 3-pointer against slightly-lax Knicks defense. Moments later, he had an alley-oop jam on a smooth feed from Keon Johnson; moments later, he corralled a defensive rebound to set up a fast break, then hustled the length of the floor to collect a miss, putting it in for a score. Before you knew it, the No. 57 pick had another double-double.
Plays like that helped open the floodgates; Greg Brown III added to his dunk reel, Brandon Williams found his 3-point flick and Portland had opened up a double-digit lead.
The Blazers will close out Summer League play on Thursday against the Houston Rockets at 6:30 pm.