Summer League Game 4 Recap: Blazers 91 Spurs 74

Last night's commanding, double-digit victory over the San Antonio Spurs put smiles on the faces of Blazers players, coaches and management alike, something we haven't seen here all week.  After the game, Kevin Pritchard milled around doling out back-slaps, Assistant Coach Monty Williams joked that the pressure was finally off his colleague Joe Prunty, and Blazers Broadcaster Mike Barrett gushed about Jeff Pendergraph's physical play against DeJuan Blair, the player many Blazers fans felt the team should have drafted instead of The Graph. The team's first win in four tries in Vegas was a good news oasis for a management team that spent much of its week in the desert holed up in a distant corner of Cox Pavilion, keeping to themselves.

After having its collective heart questioned by Coach Prunty a day earlier, the entirety of the Blazers Summer League team rose to the challenge straight out of the gate on Saturday night, exceeding San Antonio's energy in the game's early minutes and outscoring the Spurs in each of the game's four quarters.  The Blazers went ultra-small with Pooh Jeter at the 2 and the Spurs simply couldn't keep up.  

Aside from the Pendergraph/Blair tilt (which was fought to a draw.. JP had 14 and 10, Blair had 16 and 11), the matchup to watch was at the point guard position once again. Jerryd Bayless took on George Hill, a promising guard who earned rotation minutes last year.  Bayless rose to the challenge and had his best defensive performance of the week, helping hold Hill to just 6 points and 3 assists.  Bayless called his defensive effort "a confidence booster," and said, "I know I'm capable of [locking down] other point guards. I think I proved it last night [against Ty Lawson] too."  

Bayless also succeeded in turning his early defensive success into the kind of offensive explosiveness we remember seeing in the 2008 Summer League.  He repeatedly drove through the Spurs team defense and reached the foul line 10 times, finishing with 19 points.  But Bayless did a nice job of staying mostly within the framework of the offense and involving his teammates, as three other Blazers finished in double digits.  His final line showed 5 assists.

The bad -- if not ugly -- news, once again: 7 turnovers in 27 minutes.  

Asked for his thoughts on his continued trouble protecting the basketball, Bayless stated, "The turnovers are coming from me trying to get other people involved... people are dropping the ball. During the regular season that doesn't happen... I had a couple of carries but a lot of them -- not saying nothing negative -- but a couple of guys dropped some passes. When it's Brandon, Travis, Rudy, Nic out on the wings, they're not dropping it."

Asked by Joe Freeman of The Oregonian about the multiple times he was whistled for carrying the ball, he replied "A couple of the carries, I don't know if they were carries or not.  I talked to [Assistant Coach] Caleb [Canales] and he said he didn't think it was. They said it was a point of emphasis for the refs in training."

Just one more Summer League game and next week's Team USA minicamp stands between Bayless and the next meaningful basketball he will play: training camp.  Asked for his early thoughts on earning time at the point guard spot during camp this year, Bayless made eye contact and stated very clearly, "It's a battle."  Asked if he would be content with settling into a backup role, he said, "Obviously, Steve [Blake] is the starting point guard but I don't think Steve would want it any other way [than a battle]. I don't think he just wants me to come in and just mess around. I'm going to come out there and battle him. You never know what could happen."  Bayless also admitted that his approach to camp would be different than last year, "I'm in a different place... Last year I kind of knew I was bound to be a backup. This year, Coach is giving me an opportunity and it's up to me."

Bayless doesn't lack confidence and on Saturday night neither his game nor his postgame session lacked fireworks.
 
-- Ben (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com)

PS Dante Cunningham rebounded nicely from a left groin injury that sidelined him on Friday night. He finished with 14 points and 2 rebounds on 7 of 12 shooting.  To read my thoughts on Cunningham's Summer League, check out this post on True Hoop.
PPS Bayless had the quip of the night when he called Pooh Jeter the Blazers' version of JJ Barea.
PPPS I am leaving Las Vegas tonight and the team's final Summer League game will not be televised by Comcast Sports Net so there will not be a Game 5 recap.  Apologies.
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