The Phoenix Suns defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, 92-84, in Game 5 of the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League on Thursday, dropping Portland's record to 1-4.
This game seemed to pull bits and pieces of the previous four into a single package, almost like a yearbook. CJ McCollum briefly got hot, upping the intrigue. Will Barton looked aggressive, impressively and disastrously so. Thomas Robinson made above-the-rim plays that no one else on the court could duplicate, but he ultimately didn't influence the outcome. Meyers Leonard hit a three-pointer, drew a technical foul and played with passion, if not always total awareness. Joel Freeland, Victor Claver and Allen Crabbe wore their jerseys and ran around.
Collectively, the Blazers missed lots of shots, struggled to set each other up, turned the ball over, didn't control the action, and couldn't get enough stops to make up for their dry spells. They closed hard -- as they did in their two previous outings -- but they couldn't quite get within reach during their third game in three nights, dropping their second game of the week against the Suns.
"They just outplayed us, man," Barton said, clearly disappointed. "Both games [against Phoenix] started off good, had a lead, then they ratcheted up and took it to us and we kind of just didn't turn our level of play up until late."
McCollum added: "We've been doing a lot of losing out here, it's frustrating. Just trying to maintain the composure. ... We've got to share the ball better and that starts with me, stop turning the ball over so much."
The box score numbers were ugly and require only a cursory review: Portland managed just nine assists against 17 turnovers and shot less than 40 percent from the floor. McCollum and Barton combined to shoot 17-for-47 and together committed nine turnovers.
The feeling after this loss -- which officially eliminated the Blazers from the Summer League championship bracket -- was that strain of disappointment where there just isn't much left to say. Losing twice to the same team has a tendency to produce that sensation and the fourth loss in less than a week only underlined it.
"We came into the game tonight hoping to play with a sense of urgency from the beginning," Blazers Summer League coach David Vanterpool said. "I thought we did a little bit in the first quarter, we had a good thing going. But once they get comfortable, they've got guys who have played and know how to play, when they get comfortable it's tough, tough to defend, tough to stop them from rolling. Once they're rolling, we've got to turn it up to the same level that they turned it up. We just haven't been able to make that happen yet."
With the meaningful games now in the books, it's time to quickly assess this group relative to expectations. Compared to the excitement levels produced by Jerryd Bayless and Damian Lillard in recent years, it goes without saying that this year's Summer League was a letdown.
Even taking away that high standard, I expected more from this group, particularly because the roster included a core of returning players that know each other, a luxury that many rosters here in Las Vegas didn't possess. Instead of flashing familiarity, this group never found an offensive rhythm unless McCollum or Barton individually had their shots going or if Robinson was in the midst of one of his Beast Mode stretches.
Individually, McCollum's abilities as a point guard and Crabbe's overall lack of impact were the two most troubling issues. Neither is a disaster, but both will need to be accounted for when it comes time to construct the rotation this fall. On the flipside, the best moments from Barton, Robinson and Leonard exceeded reasonable expectations. The net result here is that Summer League raised more questions than it answered, setting up a 2013 training camp that should be one of the most intriguing camps in recent years.
Random Game Notes
- My apologies for a scheduling mistake on Wednesday night. I wrote that a loss to the Suns would end the Blazers' Summer League. Their title hopes did die but their Summer League will continue on in zombie form on Friday. Portland will face the Minnesota Timerwolves in the consolation bracket at 7:30 PM PT.
- Given that the Timberwolves game will be the Blazers' fourth contest in four nights (!!!), Portland's key players are not expected to play. Our coverage of that game will be minimal unless David Vanterpool elects to substitute media members in place of his real players, in which case I will write a 4,000 word diary about my experiences as a pseudo-professional basketball player.
- "Now I know how Joel Freeland feels," the story would likely begin.
- Here's video of a rim-rattling alley-oop dunk from Thomas Robinson via YouTube user NBA.
- Here are the full game highlights.
- The telepatphy between the Morris twins came up huge on a court-length inbounds pass for a transition hoop from one twin to the other. Those guys...
- Allen Crabbe had a few nice defensive moments, breaking up a transition opportunity with a deflection and then snaring a steal coming from off the ball.
- Robinson's high-flying block shot might have been better than his dunk. "Which was better: Robinson's block or dunk?" seems like it could become a recurring debate.
- I understand that NBA TV cut out during the second quarter of the game for a press conference featuring NBA commissioner David Stern. I know this sounds impossible, but that might have actually been a good development for Blazers fans. The Suns won the second quarter, 33-13, and the Blazers went nearly seven minutes without scoring.
- I saw Pauly D from "Jersey Shore" at Macy's on Thursday morning. Last year, I saw The Situation on Las Vegas Boulevard. Place your bets now as to whether I will randomly stumble into JWoWWWWWWWWWW or Snooki when Andrew Wiggins is leading the Blazers to the 2014 Summer League title next year.
David Vanterpool's Post-Game Comments
No comeback this time
It gets tough. You get to a point where you're down, you've got to fight, and all of a sudden play with a sense of urgency. We came into the game tonight hoping to play with a sense of urgency from the beginning, and I thought we did a little bit in the first quarter, we had a good thing going. But once they get comfortable, they've got guys who have played and know how to play, when they get comfortable it's tough, tough to defend, tough to stop them from rolling. Once they're rolling, we've got to turn it up to the same level that they turned it up. We just haven't been able to make that happen yet.
CJ McCollum turned it on during the fourth quarter
When you're trying to come back and play with a different sense of urgency, it makes a difference. As you've seen the last few games, we've always come back because we've been down, then guys don't want to lose and especially not by a lot, so they start hustling and doing more things that we've been asking them to do from the beginning.
CJ's situation is no different than any of the other players. He's playing with a higher sense of urgency in those situations.
Evaluate CJ McCollum's play in Las Vegas
It's obvious he's a very good player. it's also obvious that he has a lot of things to learn, especially playing the point guard position on this level. Everything is a work in progress. You want to uplift your teammates to a point where they trust you and trust the things you do and the decisions you make. CJ is just going to have to learn how to pick up things a little bit quicker on the fly.
With our whole team, we want to emphasize sharing the ball offensively. CJ has been used to scoring points. Being that type of point guard is really difficult, especially out here. We want to be able to figure out easier ways for him to score points. It doesn't always have to be him creating or manufacturing shots. He'll learn. He's a humble guy, really conscientious. I'm not worried about him.
McCollum off the ball
He's really good off the ball, we can see that. We'll try to exploit and take advantage of what he has.
Will wants to do well so bad, he's been working hard. He really wants to show what he's been working on and how it's improved. Sometimes you push a little bit hard, to create shots, especially when we're losing. A sense of urgency tends to seep in when those things happen. Will is no different than any other player. Some of his shots tonight -- we want to improve his shot selection, of course.
The title dream is dead -- how does that change your focus and will you rest the main guys tomorrow night?
You've got to improve every day. The bottom line is you just want to improve and you just want to get better. At whatever it is you do. You all write a story, today, tomorrow, you want to write a better story. We just want to continue to grind at things the same way we've been doing and be as consistent as possible. We've got to be consistent as coaches and they have to be consistent as players.
What did you like tonight?
I liked the way we fought especially at the end part of the game. We did rebound the ball. At times, we weren't having too much success. What were we, 49 [rebounds], we won the rebounding battle by 10. Our bigs rim ran all night, that was something we wanted to make sure they got into doing. Being aggressive down there. I was happy about those things but you've got to share the ball, you've got to play well with your teammates, all of us collectively, and hopefully we learned a lesson.
Meyers is Meyers. You've got to love the kid, he enjoys himself on the court. Today, he did well rebounding. That's something he and I went over before the game in some video stuff. He did a great job rebounding, I thought, he did a great picking his spots. Just like everybody else, our decisions have to be quicker. When the ball is coming, you've got to know what's going to happen next. Meyers is really improving, I think he showed that here.
What's the biggest improvement from McCollum?
He's shown a little bit of improvement in executing ATO sets [plays after timeouts]. He's getting a little bit better as far as understanding certain things. He's had a crash course in learning what to do when you get double-teamed. That's something that you can't simulate in practice. In Portland, doing certain things, he did improve in certain areas. Out here, you get a crash course, they double-teamed, he has to learn how to pass out of double teams a lot quicker and move the ball a lot quicker.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter