The Portland Trail Blazers led the Atlanta Hawks wire-to-wire in a game that featured very little drama but plenty of highlights. The Blazers won 91-76 to improve to 2-1 in the 2014 Las Vegas Summer League.
Portland jumped out to an early lead behind strong defense and Will Barton, who hit his first five shots and didn’t miss until the closing seconds of the first quarter. The Blazers forced 8 turnovers in the first 12 minutes, and took advantage with transition and semi-transition buckets. The game wasn’t as sloppy as a lot of Summer League performances, but it was just as guard-oriented, as C.J. McCollum and Barton got theirs and the bigs got whatever looks were left. When the guards couldn’t get to the rim, the jumpers they settled for wouldn’t go in for either team, and the Blazers led after the first quarter, 22-15.
Barton cooled off in the second quarter but McCollum picked up the slack. McCollum was shooting so well we all forgot about the ugly clank of the Las Vegas rims as he took three after inadvisable three and buried them all. He started the game 5-5 from deep. On the other end, the Blazers guards did a good job of limiting Dennis Schroder, who scored 30 against the D-League Select team on Sunday. Schroder looked good at times, scoring 16, but he was mostly quiet and committed 6 turnovers.
At some point in the second quarter, the game degenerated into an And-1 mixtape, with McCollum spotting up from 28 feet and Barton throwing through-the-legs fastbreak alley-oops to Thomas Robinson. It was fun, loosey summer ball, but that is forgivable. The Blazers generated those opportunities through pesky defense and clever passing. A Schroder-to-Mike Muscala lob cut the lead to 7 at one point, but Portland led 48-32 at the half, with 34 of those coming from Barton and McCollum.
They came out in the third with a little more complexity to their offense, engaging the bigs in facilitating the offense and running some backdoor cuts and high-low action. It paid off, and they inched away until the game was out of reach. The Hawks pushed the Blazers with some penetration and outside shooting, but they only made up two points in the quarter. The game never got especially close, and the last several minutes of the fourth were garbage time.
Barton made me feel good about my decision to write him a love letter yesterday. He was unguardable early (not that anyone was trying too hard) and scored 17 points on 14 shots to go with 4 rebounds and 4 assists. He had a good sense of when to pull up and shoot and when to attack, and he didn’t take more than a couple bad shots all game. He was drawing Michael Jordan comparisons from the NBA TV announcers (no, for real), and I really liked that he didn’t force anything when C.J. was red hot. My Summer League love affair burns on.
McCollum gave us our first unambiguous look at that shooting stroke we’ve heard so much about, going 6-9 from three and nailing multiple heat checks. He looked great today, scoring 28 and sharing primary ball-handling duties with Barton. The jury is still out on his ability to score inside–when he doesn’t get blocked, I feel sure that he would have in a real NBA game–but he looks like a legitimate regular-season bench player. He also dunked once off the dribble, which according to NBA.com he did twice last year.
Robinson wasn’t as involved in the set offense as in previous games, but he helped out in other ways. He led the team in rebounds (predictable) and assists (less so) and had a few passes that would’ve been impressive from a point guard. His jumper didn’t fall like it has been, and it looks like the nice stroke he had in the New York and Houston games might have been a sample-size fluke. He finished with an impressively well-rounded stat line: 8 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, 0 turnovers.
Meyers Leonard came back from a shoulder injury and was pretty bad. He had seven fouls, and looked hesitant and underconfident on defense. He facilitated nicely on offense, and there’s a chance that his disorientation was just first-game-back nerves. It always seems to me that when he’s away from the basket contesting shots and containing drives, he can defend okay, but when he has to rely on his coordination and reactions closer to the hoop he’s helpless.
Joel Freeland lost minutes to Leonard, likely because the coaching staff already has a pretty good idea what Freeland can do. He looked fine. Allen Crabbe reminds me a lot of Luke Babbitt, who everyone swore up and down was a Maravichian shooter in practice but who never showed it in the games. Like Babbitt, Crabbe seems a little despondent when the shot is not falling. Today he showed a little off-the-bounce initiative, which is nice but won’t keep him in the league.
Bobby Brown was largely unremarkable in this game. He got aggressive scoring late, which I would do too if I were in his spot. Everyone else got some late, irrelevant burn. Rodney Carney threw down a nice dunk and hit a 30-footer at the very end of the game.
- Thomas Robinson left the game in the third with a thumb injury and didn’t return, but he’s “fine” according to Ben Golliver.
- I’d love to hear Grant Hill call more games in the future. On the former-player-analyst scale, he’s a cut above Chris Webber and, like, eight above Reggie Miller.
- According to Barrys Tickets, if the core can stay healthy, Rip City will ahve a chance at a championship run soon
- Today’s Summer League Moment of the Game (it’s like a Kodak Moment, but with gifs instead of photos) was when Muscala inbounded the ball to Schroder, who was tying his shoes. Barton read it perfectly, stole it, and careened into Muscala, finishing with a blind, twisting, over-the-head scoop. Muscala is thanking his lucky stars his salary is partially guaranteed next year.
- There were a lot of cool dunks in this game, from Leonard, McCollum, Barton, and Robinson. Go watch the highlights, it’s worth it. The first one, yet another McCollum-Barton alley-oop, had me salivating for next year’s backup backcourt.
- The Blazers’ next opponent is unclear at the moment, as the tournament bracket is not yet set. They are guaranteed two more games, and more if they keep winning.