The Chicago Bulls defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in overtime, 80-78, in Game 3 of the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League on Tuesday, dropping Portland's record to 0-3.
This was not only a fairly entertaining game, it was a good reminder that Summer League does matter.
One side-by-side look at Thomas Robinson following Sunday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers and Tuesday's game against the Bulls is all the evidence you need of the value of this experience. On Sunday, Robinson mumbled, politely, in a low voice, often with slumped shoulders. He looked and sounded lost, more than anything, and he was a bit detached from the scene, as if watching himself go through the motions from somewhere else.
After scoring 12 points, grabbing 18 records (a Blazers Summer League record), blocking a shot and drawing a technical foul, Robinson looked relieved. Not "dodged a bullet" relieved, more like "got the grade he was hoping for on the chemistry midterm" relieved. Robinson smiled, let off a couple one-liners, opened up more than he has since landing in Portland last week, and offered some insight into what makes him tick, as a player and as a person.
Without Summer League, this confidence-booster doesn't happen. Without Summer League, Robinson would have been left to fill at least two months stewing over his rookie season and his second trade as a professional before entering training camp as the new guy, slotting in behind an All-Star on the depth chart. Does this game change his world? No, but it's a data point for reference, and Robinson can use as many of those with positive results as he can get right now.
His play wasn't flawless, and many of the same problems he had earlier in the week cropped up again. I had the great pleasure of watching Tuesday's game with Dave, and as I joked to him: isolation plays for Robinson are sort of like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book where "every turn the page" command ends in a different type of disaster. On page four, the ball goes flying out of his hands. On page six, it's an offensive foul. On page eight, he gets stuck under the hoop, pump-faking for space that's not coming. On page 12, a wild lay-up attempt. On page 16, a forced jumper.
That's an exaggeration, of course, but Robinson finished just 4-for-9, and he received a post-game one-on-one chat with coach Terry Stotts, who emphasized the importance of establishing deeper position and cutting out the fatty mid-range jumpers from his diet.
"[Stotts] told me, if I catch the ball close in, 15 feet in, where I could hit that shot, and still be able to get to the basket, it would be a better offensive possession for me rather than catching it 20 feet and out," Robinson explained. "He's totally right. I shouldn't let smaller guys, not too many guys should be able to push me out 20 feet anyway."
This was an engagement level from Robinson that we hadn't previously heard, an attitude that generally matched his on-court play on Tuesday. There were sequences in which he could have run the court harder, there were a few defensive breakdowns that raised the blood pressure, and there were, as mentioned, a couple of offensive possessions that seemed doomed from the start. But Robinson also displayed -- for the longest stretches we've seen, and with the most effectiveness -- the rebounding instincts that he's already said will be his bread and butter.
His energy was also key in a fourth-quarter series that helped the Blazers pull back into a game in which they trailed by 14 points. With roughly seven minutes remaining in the game, Robinson rose high to block a shot, in pseudo-chasedown fashion, and then slammed home a dunk on the other end. Portland's week, overall, has been fairly lifeless, and yet here he was providing a jolt.
"I went back and watched all the old tapes," Robinson said. "I didn't play with the same emotion, didn't play like I was having fun no more, outside of today, so I'm trying to get back to that. If I get back to that, I feel like I'll be very comfortable in this league. ... I have to find a way to get back to myself. That's talking, messing with other people, being annoying pretty much the whole game. That's all I try to do."
That talking included an exchange with a referee that drew a technical foul. With no threat of fines, Robinson offered his rationale behind the exchange.
"I just wanted the ref to hear me, that's all," he explained. "It was a bad call. I think CJ [McCollum] got a foul on a jump ball or something, it was good defense, he called a foul. If I get a tech defending my teammate, then it's cool with me."
I'm no major advocate of handing free points to the opposition, but that's part of the "garbage man" role that Robinson is supposed to fill, right? Scouring the court for possible advantages, adding a little edge, policing the police, playing for "us" instead of for self. That's not necessarily the behavior that we associate with star players, nor has it been a strength of the Blazers over the last few years. There's value to be found there, if he continues to embody the spirit behind those words.
Speaking of words, they flowed and flowed from Robinson after he finally put a real stamp on a game here in Vegas. He said earlier this week that he felt "disrespected" following his trade to Portland by the Houston Rockets, a sentiment that he previously expressed when the Sacramento Kings traded him to the Rockets.
"If ain't nobody want me, I would have been out with the first team," he reasoned on Tuesday. "I could go to 20 more teams, I'll be fine. ... I'm not going to play the victim card. I'm a grown man. I didn't come into the league with the right mindset and that messed me up a little bit. No fault on Sacramento or Houston, they did what they had to do."
What the Rockets had to do -- as we know now -- was salary dump Robinson to the Blazers to clear cap space so that they could sign All-Star center Dwight Howard.
"Houston made a great power move, if I was the GM I would have done the same thing," Robinson said. "I can't blame them for that. .. [But now, even] if I'm playing against little kids, I'm going to act like it's Dwight I'm going against."
And they all said that McCollum, the journalism major, was the reporter's dream.
Portland's fourth-quarter push set up a frenetic endgame sequence that found McCollum, who finished with a game-high 27 points but shot just 8-for-25, play both hero and goat. At the end of regulation, he hit a game-tying three-pointer with 10.8 seconds left and then blocked a Marquis Teague jumper to force overtime. McCollum took his jumper, smooth as silk and without delay, after he freed himself using multiple screens on a sideline inbounds play.
"It was a good screen by the big fellas up top, coach drew up a good play," McCollum said. "It's my job to knock down shots. I didn't knock down a lot of shots tonight but I have all the confidence in the world in myself down the stretch. If I have a shot, I'm going to take it. ... I've tried to get up as many shots as I can to prepare for this moment. ... When i get a play drawn up for me, my eyes light up and it's time for me to knock it down."
Rarely do you see a game-deciding possession like that result in such a wide open look during the regular season. From start to finish, everything went right, and McCollum did the rest.
"He's ready," Blazers Summer League coach David Vanterpool said. "His confidence is really high, consistently high. He's learning, he understands that he has a lot to learn and he's very humble in that respect. When it comes down to those situations, he scored two million points at Lehigh... The bottom line is he put up that many points, some people can't do that in an empty gym. When we get in those moments, I feel confident in him and I know he feels confident in himself to take that type of shot and make them."
The contest proceeded to a short, two-minute overtime period that went down to the wire. On the game's deciding possession, McCollum opted to dish off to Victor Claver with the clock winding down, rather than attack the hoop. The play was apparently designed for Meyers Leonard, who never got the chance to launch a shot until after the final buzzer had already sounded because Claver found himself stuck with possession and nowhere to go. Sometimes everything goes right; sometimes nothing goes right.
"I butchered that one," McCollum said. "We drew up a play, Meyers was supposed to get a shot at the end, I passed it to Vic, and I came off, and I looked back and it looked like he was getting double-teamed, so I came back instead of clearing out. I'll take that one, it's kind of my fault."
After two double-digit losses, the Blazers weren't sulking about the sour ending. On the contrary, they were pleased not to get run off of the court, they were proud of their second-half push, they were emboldened by Robinson's play, and they were excited by McCollum's shot, which was easily the highlight of all of Tuesday's action.
Random Game Notes
- The Blazers will play Wednesday at 5:30 PM PT against the Atlanta Hawks, as the Summer League shifts into its new tournament format. If they win, they will get a rematch with the Phoenix Suns at 5 PM PT on Thursday with a chance to move into the quarterfinals on Saturday. If they lose, they will conclude their Summer League on Friday at 7:30 PM PT.
- The Blazers officially placed in the No. 19 seed out of the 22 teams in attendance based on the points system being used by scoring each quarter individually. The Blazers finished ahead of the Sacramento Kings (No. 20), Memphis Grizzlies (No. 21) and Denver Nuggets (No. 22).
- I didn't intend to leave Victor Claver until the notes section, it just happened that way. After sitting Game 2 with a bruished thigh, Claver stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals. He came out with good energy early, when a number of his teammates were working their way up to speed. The highlight of his night was an alley-oop dunk, even if the public address announcer couldn't seem to figure out who had made the play.
- McCollum struggled with his shot throughout and he struggled to stay in front of Teague, one of the quicker guards in the league. Teague finished with 25 points and three assists in a very purposeful game.
- Joel Freeland tossed in a nice little lefty hook in isolation on the block.
- Meyers Leonard finished with 12 points and just three rebounds (much to Timmay's chagrin). His flip shots are getting more and more reliable.
- Will Barton didn't play because of the knee strain suffered against the Lakers.
- It's always nice to spend some quality time watching hoops and catching up with Dave. Doesn't happen nearly enough!
- Joe Freeman of The Oregonian caught up with former Blazers assistant coach and current New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams to get his thoughts on new Blazers center Robin Lopez.
"You can't equate defense by the numbers all the time," Williams said. "That's the issue I have with all these numbers. He has a good feel for where he's supposed to be. He may not take a charge, but he'll distract a guy. To me, that's just as important at times. He's also going to help LaMarcus out tremendously. Because LaMarcus doesn't have to guard Dwight (Howard). He doesn't have to guard (Kendrick) Perkins and (Marc) Gasol and all those other bigs. It's a totally different deal. LaMarcus can guard Jason Thompson without having to guard DeMarcus Cousins. That's going to free him up."
"When we lost him, we lost a lot of intelligence - our intellect quotient went down a ton because a he's really bright person," Williams said. "He just understands how to play defense. He understands the game and his role. I'm going to miss him."
David Vanterpool's Post-Game Comments
Better play down the stretch
Execution. The shot to get us into overtime in the first place, we really executed. The very last one, we didn't. Sometimes that's the difference in the game. You have to execute, trust your teammates, trust the play, trust whatever is drawn up. It's difficult sometimes, everybody wants to win, everybody wants to help, sometimes you helping is you not doing something. Sometimes you helping is you actually being a decoy, you cutting away from the ball, you setting a screen for someone, that's you actually helping. We had to execute that on the last play. We executed the play to get us into overtime in the first place, I'm really proud of the way they fought and the way they got back into the game.
Who designed that play for the three-pointer?
We just made it up. [Laughs] Nah, I designed it. It was something I drew up. It worked. I wish a couple of other plays worked a little better, some of the stuff we worked on. Maybe we should scrap the stuff we worked on and just draw stuff up and see what happens, because it seemed like that worked a little bit better than some of the other stuff over the course of these past three games. Guys are getting better, they're starting to build, they're starting to pick up what we want, especially defensively. We did a pretty good job defensively of covering the nail, covering the paint, we fought hard to get back into the game.
CJ McCollum three-pointer
He's ready. His confidence is really high, consistently high. He's learning, he understands that he has a lot to learn and he's very humble in that respect. When it comes down to those situations, he scored 2 million points at Lehigh, whatever university he went to, people talk about small schools, it doesn't matter. The bottom line is he put up that many points, some people can't do that in an empty gym. When we get in those moments, I feel confident in him and I know he feels confident in himself to make that type of shot and make them.
Inbounds play designed for McCollum all the way?
We had options. There were other options. That was the first option.
Last play of the game
Not to point anything out, we just didn't execute it the way it was drawn up. Not to say it necessarily would have worked, that we necessarily would have made the shot, but we could have gotten a clean look. We have to be able to trust the play, or trust our teammates in those moments. That's just a learning point for our guys.
He's been wanting to do so well, so bad. For him, being a monster on the glass is going to be important, being a monster defensively is going to be important, making sure he's there to do a lot of the dirty work. He already has a lot more talent than a normal dirty work type of guy. He can be one of the best dirty work type of guys in this league. He needs to concentrate on some of the little things and build on some of the other stuff with his offense and get better. He came out aggressive tonight and that's what we want from him.
He didn't play last game, so he's excited, he's like, shoot, I have an opportunity to come out and play hard. That's what he did. I'm proud of all of our guys.
Thomas Robinson -- mental part
It's really hard. I've never been a fifth pick, I don't think many of us have ever been the fifth pick in the draft and understand what that pressure is like. Sometimes you get into those moments and the outside world, especially now with social media, you have so many voices, you're going to hear something. He has to be truthful to himself. It's hard sometimes to accept being truthful with yourself. The faster he's truthful with himself, as far as his abilities and what he's capable of, and well as the things I think he's special with, like being a beast on the board, [the better]."
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter