The Portland Trail Blazers opened their 2014 Summer League schedule by dropping a 71-69 heartbreaker to Tim Hardaway Jr. and the New York Knicks. While the game featured impressive moments from Portland's big players, they weren't able to put it together as a team.
Game flow is the least important aspect of these outings, so let's summarize. Portland started the game bombing away from the perimeter. Their lack of a point guard threat became apparent early. They ended up making four passes per set only to end up in harrowing isolation situations, lofting jumpers over outstretched hands. The absence of solid screens compounded Portland's woes. The only free shots ended up rushed. Turnovers were more reliable than scoring.
The officials offered a hand to the Blazers, blowing whistles like a Brazilian parade. They sent Portland to the line 34 times in a 40-minute game, a 10-attempt advantage over New York. The Blazers squandered the edge, though, connecting on only 22 foul shots for a 65% average.
The Knicks didn't look that much better. Hardaway and Cleanthony Early used their athletic ability to get free upon occasion, but nobody connected much.
The score was knotted at 32 when intermission hit. The Blazers gained an advantage in the second half by feeding their big men inside instead of using them to screen. They put the ball in the hands of Will Barton more, allowing him to threaten the shot or the pass. Their plays became more cohesive, their size began to tell, their guards connected on catch-and-shoot opportunities instead of trying to create off the dribble.
It wasn't enough in the end. Hardaway and Shane Larkin burned defenders who couldn't keep up. Portland's rebounding and interior defense slipped when Joel Freeland took a rest. The Blazers still couldn't hit free throws. The score stayed close despite Portland's improvements. A baseline jumper by Larkin put the Knicks ahead late. Blown layups and turnovers filled up the final possessions before the final buzzer called a merciful end to the mostly-disjointed effort.
Coming out as flat as a supermodel's behind was not part of the game plan. It's typical for Summer League but the Blazers also started 4 players with real NBA experience...albeit slight in the case of C.J. McCollum. The Blazers should have looked more cohesive than their patchwork counterparts but didn't.
The lack of scoring ability off the dribble showed mightily. Will Barton was the only guy making inroads but his finishes were catch-as-catch-can. Creating little pressure, setting ineffective screens, each Blazer was left to fend for himself. Outside of Barton that isn't their game...at all. The difference between Hardaway--comfortable with the ball in his hands and a mandate to score--and every smaller player on Portland's side was evident. Hardaway took some crazy shots but he got separation on most of them. The Blazers...not so much. Except for Rodney Carney. He bricked almost every shot but he got open looks and took them cleanly.
The Blazers were quicker down the floor than the Knicks for most of the game. They had that going for them. Portland's big man play was more polished as well...a genuine strength. If the smaller guys could set up opportunities for the bigs better, this game would have been different.
Portland's guards did show quick hands and feet on defense, poking away 8 steals. They gave as good as they got in the turnover department.
One would assume the Blazers will settle into their next games quicker than they did this one. It'd be nice to see them come together and run the offense like they did in the second half without waiting so long.
Joel Freeland played the best (read: most consistent) game on Portland's side. He doesn't do a ton of things but everything he does, he does. He got decent looks on the inside, cleared space appropriately, grabbed the rebounds that came to him, and played under control. His defense wasn't bad, though the Knicks didn't test the inside with bigs too much. I saw Freeland in his first Summer League games (eons ago now). The development of his confidence and court presence is nice to see. He wasn't going to win or lose this game for Portland but he did his job...maybe the only Blazer player who managed that this afternoon.
Thomas Robinson had a good outing overall. Unlike the more-steady Freeland, T-Rob's game was stuffed with highs balancing lows. He tied for a game-high 7 rebounds but also committed a game-high 5 turnovers. He scored 17 on a mixed bag of shots. His face-up jumper from the foul line looked great. He had an awesome move down low where he cleared room, caught, spun once, and finished. It was beautiful. He also got T-Rob-ish during certain possessions, the chief of which was blowing a breakaway dunk because he couldn't decide how to put it down. He evidenced the usual agility on the defensive end but also fouled a three-point shooter while going for a close-out block late to keep the Knicks in the game.
Will Barton did not play that well considering this game was all but set up for him to break through and take charge. He was the Big Hope in the first half when the Blazers devolved into iso ball but he couldn't finish. His jumper looked troubled. His rebounding was superb...always a bonus with Will. Plus some of his moves were spectacular even if he couldn't finish. It wasn't a bad day for Barton per se, it just could have been more...especially if he's eyeing reserve minutes behind Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews this season.
C.J. McCollum sputtered big time in this game. His major asset was quickness. He made a couple nice cuts, a couple more nice moves with the ball, and pilfered his way to 4 steals. Those moments shined amid an array of missed shots, missed free throws, missed defensive assignments. I suppose your impression of his outing would depend on what you expected from him. If he's just a player trying to crack the team you'd say those glimmers came frequently enough to get you excited that he could be a player at some point. If you're looking at him as last year's lottery pick and an impact guy, this wasn't that promising of a game.
Allen Crabbe had a hideous outing, missing 4 of 5 shots, both of his threes, and accumulating 7 personal fouls plus 3 turnovers. He looked lost when presented with anything but an open look. He looked lost on defense no matter what.
Meyers Leonard did not play due to a shoulder injury.
The Blazers play again tomorrow versus Houston at 5:30 p.m. Pacific.
You can find the boxscore for this game HERE.
Go ahead and share your impressions of Game 1 below. Who shined and who slumped? What hidden gems can you unearth?
--Dave email@example.com / @DaveDeckard