Last year Allen Crabbe stood out among the rest of the summer squad with his newly chiseled physique, flashy mohawk and improved shooting. The Trail Blazers' 2015 Summer League star took center stage again on Sunday night, even though he was wearing street clothes.
Earlier in the day Rip City fans at Cox Pavilion were buzzing with the news that the Blazers had matched his (gulp) $75 million offer from the Nets. He walked into the arena and drew the biggest cheer of the night.
It was all Summer League basketball from there, though, as the Blazers fell to their nemesis from San Antonio, 85-69.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Summer League basketball. But you need to adjust your expectations. There are more missed dunks than made dunks, more alley oops(!) than ally-oops. The best way to enjoy it is to focus on initiation rather than finishing. Unless you’re a Spurs fan, you’ll be disappointed if you are looking for fundamentals. Summer League is the time for finding out who can create plays and make things happen on the court. Initiation there was plenty. Finishing, there was not.
In keeping with that theme, the Trail blazers opened strong. The starting five were the players we came to see: Noah Vonleh, Pat Connaughton, Cliff Alexander, Luis Montero and Shabazz Napier making his Trail Blazer’s debut. They seemed dialed in from tip-off, communicating well and following instructions from their new point guard Napier.
Connaughton seemed determined to make things happen. At one point in the opening minutes he held the ball and pointed to a spot on the court for Cliff Alexander to occupy. Alexander moved and took two Spurs with him, clearing the lane as effectively as if crowd control had walked up and asked everyone to "Please step back." Connaughton finished with a thundering dunk.
That would be the last big play for quite a long time. At the end of the first quarter, the guys in white were down 9-18.
Rookie Jake Layman came in off the bench. He looked slightly more comfortable than he did on Saturday, as he’s clearly adjusting to life in the NBA. Layman spent a lot of time looking at coach for instructions. The focus seems to be getting him into the right position without the ball his hands. He is definitely athletic but he needs to learn how to rely on other skills, like making space and being in position to compliment his nice hops and shooting abilities. There was a lot of pointing from the side lines, directing him where to go.
Noah Vonleh lead the team in scoring with 16 but that was no match for the Spurs' Jonathon Simmons and Kyle Anderson who seemingly could not miss (yawn).
Taking a 48-33 deficit into halftime, the Blazers did manage to outscore the Spurs in the third. A scary moment occurred under the Blazer’s basket when Napier collided with Alexander and the point guard took a blow to the head. As he lay on the floor clutching the back of his head we worried that our new player would be sidelined before he even got warmed up.
Napier exited the game with the trainers and thankfully returned to sit with the team for the remainder of the game. At the time he went down, his energy was on the rise so we all hope he returns to action soon (Team Mom commentary: not before he is ready! Head injuries and not something to mess around with.)
With about four minutes left, and after the Spurs had put in the end of the end of their bench, the Blazers woke up and started to close the gap. Vonleh remembered the nickname I gave him, Captain VonLane, and decided to take command of the lane. He finished the night with a dunk, a lay-up and a nice little finger-roll.
Without Napier in the game, Russ Smith took over point duties and managed to get to the line several times. The Blazers won the free throw line, shooting 76.9 percent to the Spurs 75 percent, so take that, San Antonio!
One of the great things about Summer League is a chance to be up close to some of the biggest stars in the league and to see the veterans who come to support their teams.
In addition to Allen Cabbe, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and honorary Blazer-for-life Tim Frazier were also in the house to watch the game. We looked but were unable to see any San Antonio Spurs in the house to cheer on their players. Presumably their big stars had already gone to the early-bird buffet and were tucked back into their regeneration pods.
One interesting thing that happened was that Rudy Gobert came and sat right behind the Blazers bench and watched a good portion of the first half of the game. Even more intriguing was the fact that he was wearing red and black. I mean, sure, his Jazz had just played in the game before, but you don’t think he owns at least one outfit that matches his own team? I’m just saying.
Stay tuned for more Summer League in-arena reports and follow Team Mom on twitter for more updates from Vegas.