The Utah Jazz defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, 75-73, in Game 5 of Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Friday. Portland completed its summer slate with a 2-3 record.
Summer League's ending proved to be much the same as the beginning: an almost, but not quite, loss that came down to the closing seconds. Portland dropped Game 1 after blowing a late lead and failing to convert on two last-minute chances; Game 5 saw Portland give back an early lead before missing a last-second chance to force overtime. The frustration from the involved parties was similar after both contests, although the stakes were lower on Friday because the Blazers had already been eliminated from the championship bracket of the tournament.
And, well, because this was a pretty hideous game that even the diehard fans in attendance had trouble sitting through. The first-quarter numbers seemed like a joke -- Utah managed just four points in 10 minutes, shooting 5 (!) percent from the field -- and yet they somehow led at halftime. The action picked up in the second half, sort of, but there were plenty of people going through the motions.
Vegas tourism commercials always show the party but never the "Walk of Shame." The Blazers and Jazz had their heels in hand, walking barefoot down Las Vegas Boulevard, trying to find which concrete parking garage held their rental cars.
The game's final three minutes were more entertaining than the first 37, for sure, as the Blazers went on a 10-4 run to pull within one possession. Down two with 1.9 seconds remaining, Portland drew up a sidelines out of bounds play with the intention of CJ McCollum lobbing the ball to a curling/back-cutting Will Barton at the rim. Barton broke so free that you could almost hear the round of muffled groans that always occurs when Summer League games go to overtime, and yet the ball never got to him. McCollum, despite a look-away fake, wasn't able to get his pass over Ian Clark, and the game fizzled out with that deflection.
Portland's second-year guard appealed to the officials, arguing that Clark had reached over illegally as he defended the pass, but his words fell on deaf ears.
"I told the ref that I'm going to need an arm's length of space," McCollum told Blazersedge afterwards. "I was trying to back up but the Jazz staff personnel were there [sitting courtside] so I didn't have much space. I pump-faked and then I went to throw it, I didn't even get the ball past the sideline. He reached over and deflected it, but it's Summer League, what can you do?"
What easily could have been a 4-1 week sputtered away to a below-.500 record, and the loss of Thomas Robinson to a thumb injury further dampened the collective spirit. The Blazers mostly looked glad that Summer League was over, even if they weren't quite dancing in the hallway like one media member whose vacation starts on Saturday.
Friday saw a short list of new developments: Allen Crabbe got the start and a good number of offensive opportunities, Meyers Leonard got the chance to go head-to-head against a more traditional big man, and the Blazers' coaches were able to see their players respond to a poor defensive outing on Thursday with better effort on Friday. That last point left Nate Tibbetts feeling generous in assessing the week as a whole.
"I would say, B, B+," Tibbetts said, when asked to grade Portland's overall performance. "We had one bad game. We responded today. I thought our guys really tried to do what we wanted defensively, besides that one game."
Although McCollum (21 points on 9-for-15 shooting) and Barton (14 points on 5-for-10 shooting) led the way offensively again, both Crabbe (10 points on 4-for-7 shooting) and Leonard (nine points on 4-for-9 shooting, seven rebounds and three blocks) at least got to leave the scene with some airport trinkets.
In an honest moment, Crabbe admitted that his takeaway from Las Vegas would be the importance of keeping his head together, regardless of his role. He got the fewest starts (1) and fewest minutes (23 per game) of Portland's six roster players, and he didn't hit a single three-pointer over his five games.
"At the end of the day I have to do what the organization is asking of me," Crabbe told Blazersedge. "I can't have an attitude about it. It's the NBA, it's a business. There are thousands of other basketball players who can do the same thing I'm doing. If [the Blazers] see I have an attitude because things aren't going my way, they could easily let me go. I have to buy into what the organization is asking me to do, focus, and do what I can when I hit the floor."
At times this week, especially early, Crabbe seemed to display a lack of enthusiasm that, coupled with his quiet play, led some courtside observers to speculate that he might be less than thrilled with his minutes or touches.
"Sometimes it may be a waiting game," Crabbe said, when asked if his patience was wearing thin. "That's the nature of the game. It can be gone fast if you're not patient, asking for trades and stuff. I do what I can, wait for my opportunity and when it comes, take advantage of it."
Joining Crabbe in saying the right things was Leonard, who told reporters that he finally felt healthy after injuring his shoulder earlier this month. Tibbetts said that he felt Leonard played his best game of the week against the Jazz, which isn't saying all that much, but Leonard did look a little more comfortable going head-to-head against Rudy Gobert, a fellow seven-footer that wasn't going to drift out to the perimeter.
"It's nice to have another big to go against rather than a stretch four or five," Leonard told Blazersedge. "I certainly need to become more comfortable guarding on the wing. I'm more than capable and plenty athletic enough to do so. ... I felt pretty sluggish through the first two games. Tonight I felt much better, which I thought translated into some better play."
Leonard seemed to fully understand that he has a long way to go, and that his doubters will point to Summer League as further evidence of his lack of development, rather than of his progress.
"I have no idea," Leonard said, when asked to grade his week. "The most frustrating part was being out of shape, for sure. During Summer League practice back in Portland, prior to hurting my shoulder, I felt much better. [After the injury, I was] not able to go full bore for long periods of time, [not] being in the right spots in the right times, [not] having legs for jump shots, rebounds. I thought I did alright [overall]. I certainly could have done better."
Add the uncertainty caused by Leonard's unfortunate health to the long list of questions that were left unanswered this week. An abbreviated version of that list might include... Can Barton and McCollum actually run an offense against NBA defenses? Can McCollum rediscover his top-end shooting touch and be a reliable scorer on a night-to-night basis? Can Barton impact games with his energy while also consistently exercising sound judgment? Is Freeland anything more than a contract number at this point? Can Crabbe find a way to impact games in limited minutes if he's only a complementary player on offense?
I didn't see solid answers to any of those questions, although McCollum's offensive play was getting there.
The list of meaningful developments, on the other hand, might look something like this... McCollum now seems comfortable defending the ball against Summer League competition. Robinson has cut down on some of his most reckless offensive habits. Freeland looks healthy after his knee injury. Barton's playoff performance against the Spurs wasn't a fluke, in that his energy turned games and set the tone at times.
Those are only modest developments, even though more seemed possible, especially before Robinson went down. The promise generated by the two victories wound up unfulfilled, much like Portland's final play of the tournament, the lob from McCollum that never made it to Barton.
"[It was] wide open," McCollum told Blazersedge. "Oh my goodness. It was a guaranteed two points. I could throw it anywhere near the rim and it was guaranteed two points. That kind of sums up our week."
Random Game Notes
- Some quick-and-dirty quotes to close out Summer League follow...
- McCollum (Portland's leading scorer at 20.2 points per game while shooting 48 percent) on his week: "I thought it was a good experience. Definitely good to get some game experience and consistent minutes. I thought it was good for me, and good for the other guys. ... I thought I did OK. Up and down. I wanted to be consistent, and shoot a decent percentage from the field. I got some decent looks and I did my best to knock them down and put myself in position to score and set up others as well. I thought I did OK."
- McCollum on the feedback he received from the coaches: "They were impressed with my defense. They were happy I was taking the challenge of defending guys and trying to be in the right spot."
- McCollum on his summer plans: "Keep working out. We have to come out here for [coach Tim Grgurich's] camp. Spend some time working out at the Clippers facility in L.A."
- Leonard on his performance Friday: "I felt a lot better. My body felt much better, I had a lot more energy, which therefore translated into getting more rebounds, being in better position on defense, being able to beat my man down the court. Different things. I was happier with how I played tonight. I couldn't get many of my normal shots that I would have made to fall. That would have looked a little better, I would have ended up with about 15 [points]."
- Leonard on where he has made progress since the end of the season: "Defensive positioning. I can recall one time getting beat to the basket by [Dennis] Schroder in the second game we played Atlanta. Aside from that I thought I squared the ball up well in our mid pick-and-roll. Our blues [Ice pick-and-roll defense] on the side were really compacting the court, forcing teams to take tough twos. I think my positioning and anticipation is much better. My mind was there, but for a good part of Summer League my legs were pretty gassed. That was the most frustrating thing."
- Leonard on his summer plans: "Continue to play. Knock on wood, hopefully no more injuries. Continue to get in the best shape, continue to work on my body but the gameplay is most important for me."
- Leonard on whether he's concerned about his role now that Chris Kaman has been acquired: "Not concerned. The opportunity is there for me, I know that. I'm ready to take it. I'm fully confident in myself. I just have to continue to work. I've done a pretty good job of getting better, staying in the gym. This has been a good one for me. Prior to getting hurt, I was feeling good out there."
- Congratulatons to Blazers PR man Kris Koivisto, who has accepted a new position with the organization as the managing editor for digital content. Follow Kris on Twitter right here.
- A programming reminder that Blazers guard Damian Lillard will be in Las Vegas on Monday for a four-day USA Basketball minicamp. Blazersedge will be in attendance providing coverage.
- Be sure to check out Timmay's player-by-player Summer League grades, which are very well-written, and leave your own in the comments.
- Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com has a transcript of a brief interview of Blazers GM Neil Olshey conducted by Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report.
Nate Tibbetts' Post-Game Comments
We had a good look. Our guys executed. The guy defending the ball, Ian Clark, might have tipped it. I was really proud of how our guys executed coming out of timeouts today. They really focused in and did a good job with that.
How would you grade the week?
I would say, B, B+. We had one bad game. We responded today. I thought our guys really tried to do what we wanted defensively, besides that one game. We had some really good looks this week. Leading up to it in camp, we probably didn't do a lot of shooting. We focused on defensive transition, defensive principles, and I think our guys did a good job of that. Except the Atlanta game, the second time we played them. I thought their focus was really good all week.
Different roles and minutes in final game
Allen responded to getting some more minutes. CJ played well. I thought Will came in [off the bench], we wanted to give some of those free-agent guys some minutes to start. I thought Meyers had his best game. He missed the first couple, he was around the rim more. He had two or three really good looks that rolled out. Joel does the dirty work. I was pleased with our guys.
More opportunities for Allen Crabbe
We went to him early a little bit more. Just a confidence level. He didn't play that much last year, we tried to get him off of pindowns. He passed up some shots maybe that he should have taken, maybe put it to the floor a little bit. He's a really good shooter, he's got to shoot the ball. I thought he looked to shoot a little bit more, I thought he was aggressive from the beginning of the game.
Meyers Leonard -- progress?
I think the first game or two he was trying to get his wind back, his rhythm. I thought he had a a really good camp. He was better today. Rudy Gobert has had a great Summer League. For him to battle [Gobert] was big. Meyers responded, and played with the right mindset. That's the big thing for him, his mindset, how he approaches it. I think he did a good job today.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter