The playoff bracket of the 2017 NBA Summer League isn’t exactly a do-or-die affair. With the consolation bracket and a guaranteed minimum number of games, it’s not “win or go home”, but, “Win and play in the big arena or lose and play in a smaller one.” Tonight the Portland Trail Blazers showed that they weren’t ready for a dim spotlight when a brighter one was available. Down starters, but not downtrodden, the Blazers overcame injuries and the Chicago Bulls, advancing to the second round with a hard-fought, 88-77 win.
As has been their habit the entire tournament, the Blazers got off to a rough start in this game. With Zach Collins and Pat Connaughton in uniform during their earlier outings, they had a prayer of recovering early. Without those shooters, such petitions were met with silence. Portland’s first-quarter offense held all the authority of a pan flute in a windstorm. Caleb Swanigan at least provided rebounds (How could he not with all the shots missing?) but he wasn’t scoring any better than his teammates. Portland limped to 12 points in the first and trailed by 7 after one.
Before you could say, “Jackrabbit Stew” (I don’t know, just go with it) Portland found themselves down 22-12 in the second. The Bulls scored easily around Portland’s loose interpretation of defense. But Jake Layman came alive mid-quarter, scoring inside and out to close the gap to 6. When RJ Hunter followed with a conventional three-point play, followed by a Nick Johnson triple, Portland trailed only 30-28. But all good things must come to an end. Chicago connected on a three and couple of shots in the lane, weathered a late Swanigan three, and led 41-35 at the half.
Layman keyed a huge Portland run in the third period with a steal, an assist, a rebound, a dunk, and a layup in succession during a 90-second span. His outburst gave the Blazers a 48-47 lead, topping a hill that had proved too steep for the come-from-behind kids in earlier games. Outside of the standard mess of deep shots allowed, Portland’s defense held well as the quarter closed. The score was tied at 61 heading home.
Layman came on strong again at the start of the fourth period, hitting a jumper and assisting on two other shots. He pushed Portland to a 70-63 lead. Then Chicago made it up, pulling within 72-71 with a combination of layups, a three, and foul shots. Bulls guard Antonio Blakeney accounted for all the close shots and charity tosses, putting the cherry on top of a hugenight.
But the game belonged to Portland down the stretch. With the pressure on, the Bulls started playing like a Summer League team, meaning all of them went into business for themselves. The Blazers continued to share the ball. They took advantage of Chicago’s dribble-heavy predictability, forcing turnovers and harassing shot attempts. Jarnell Stokes joined Swanigan and Layman punishing the Bulls with a 10-0 run. When Hunter hit his first three of the game with 1:37 remaining, the bell started to toll for Chicago. When he followed up with his second, the steeple fell on their heads. The Blazers moved on to the second round of the playoff bracket with a run-away 88-77 win.
Jake Layman became his own Big Four tonight with 22 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 assists in 34 minutes. He was the center of Portland’s resurgence.
Layman’s partner in crime was none other than Stokes, who put up a monster stat line of 16 points, 8-11 shooting, and 17 rebounds, 6 offensive.
Chicago’s starting forwards scored a grand total of 5 points against 38 for Layman and Stokes. Smashy-smashy.
The Blazers destroyed the Bulls on the offensive glass, 12-4.
Blakeney was the bright spot for Chicago, scoring 27 in 35 minutes. Portland wouldn’t be Portland without a thorn in their side.
The Blazers finally held on defense, keeping Chicago below 40% from the field. They allowed 38% from the arc but that’s expected with this lineup. They’re big, not fleet.
Portland will face the top-seeded Toronto Raptors tomorrow at 7:00 PM, Pacific. If they win, they’ll be in the quarterfinals on Saturday. If they lose, they get to play in a consolation game on Friday night.