The Portland Trail Blazers, led by Thomas Robinson (17 and 7 on 6-9 shooting), Will Barton (11-7-3), and C.J. McCollum (16 points with 4 steals) looked like the more talented team, but missed free throws in a wild finish that gave the victory to the New York Knicks, 71-69.
Summer league being what it is, there wasn’t a ton of structure. Cohesion isn’t what you’re looking for: you’re looking for individual talent, and how that talent may be best utilized with your “real” team (no offense, Summer Leaguers). And certainly Summer League wins and losses don’t mean anything when the regular season starts.
With that in mind, even though Blazer hopeful Bobby Brown stepped out of bounds down two with seconds left and a chance to tie, and even though they shot under 65% from the line, the Blazers should walk away from this one feeling pretty good.
Barton continues to improve. For as much as we’ve seen him grow over the last two years, it wouldn’t have been uber-disappointing for him to look a little rusty in the middle of July. Maybe he’d want to give some of the other players a chance, knowing that he’d had a crack at the rotation come November. Instead, Barton was lightning-quick, as spry and aggressive as ever. What really piqued my interest was how much the game seems to have slowed down for him, even if it’s just a glorified scrimmage.
With better teammates, he would have had twice as many assists. Some very nice penetration moves got the defense on their heels, and some well-timed bullets met their mark. As he’s want to do, those passes would often be delivered with body contorted, eyes looking at anything but the passes’ intended recipients, and as such his never-have-been-and-probably-never-will-be-teammates were as unprepared for them as the Knicks were. He also seems much more patient, and much more willing to burst around at targeted moments a-la Damian Lillard rather than run around like a chicken with its head cut off a-la Mo Williams.
Robinson blew quite a few scoring opportunities, mostly at the line, which is saying something considering he led all Blazers with 17 and shot 66% from the field. An embarrassing blown rock-the-cradle dunk in the open court was just slightly less maddening than the terrible, fading jumper that followed when he got his own rebound. All in all, however, he was confident and impressive, looking much more like the 5th overall pick he was just a few years ago and less like the 3-team journeyman he’s become since.
Joel Freeland… what can you say? The guy was cooler than an Antarctic cucumber farm. He knows how to play his game, and rarely ventures beyond what he’s capable of doing. His 9 and 4 may not look that impressive, but he was everywhere he needed to be.
McCollum started poorly. Very poorly. At one point he was 0-6 and was getting blocked again and again, oftentimes after initiating spin moves that looked impressive, but didn’t gain him much real estate. He also was having trouble hitting his free throws and finishing at the rim… you can live without one of those, but without both the game gets much, much harder. He seemed more relaxed in the second half, and while he doesn’t have Barton’s explosiveness, he does share his dogged determination.
Allen Crabbe was bad. He doesn’t look like a rotation player.
I only remembered Brown’s name because he was involved in the losing play at the end, and he made me think of Whitney Houston.
Meyers Leonard sat with a shoulder injury. I guess keeping those pythons happy isn’t easy.
The Blazers play tomorrow at 5:30pm PST in a rematch of sorts against the Houston Rockets. Extra bonus points should be awarded if the Blazers can eek out a win in the closing seconds on an out of bounds play.