The Portland Trail Blazers continued their impressive run through the 2017 NBA Summer League playoffs bracket today, defeating the San Antonio Spurs 94-87. The complete and team-oriented victory propelled Portland into the semi-finals of the tournament, to be played on Sunday afternoon at 3:00 PM.
Jake Layman helped seal the victory for the Blazers, scoring 13 points in the fourth period on his way to a game-high 23. Four Portland starters finished in double figures. The Blazers held Summer League star Bryn Forbes to 13 points on 2-8 shooting, fouling him out in the fourth quarter.
Dave Deckard and Steve DeWald discuss the action below, with observations about Portland’s play, first-round sensation Caleb Swanigan, and the NBA Summer League in general.
The Blazers started quickly with Caleb Swanigan punishing the Spurs inside and outside. Six points in the paint plus a couple of jumpers put Portland up 12-8. The Spurs had to rely on free throws to keep up. Portland’s interior defense slipped a bit mid-quarter, allowing San Antonio to stay in contact via layups even though Portland’s own offense was clearly superior. Portland continued to work it in the lane but once the Spurs got rolling, their inside-out attack proved capable. Once again Bryn Forbes was a handful, tattooing 7 on the Blazers in the period. San Antonio led 24-22 after one.
DD: The Blazers are starting better in this game than they have in most of their Summer League outings. 50% shooting from the field to start the game, good defense, no turnovers...it looks like they borrowed some confidence from somewhere!
SD: Portland was due for a competent start, it is nice to see them getting into their offensive sets early. R.J. Hunter is better equipped to man the two-guard spot in Pat Connaughton's absence. Giving Jorge Gutierrez, a natural point guard, a chance to initiate the offense.
DD: Caleb Swanigan is looking alert and quick. Early in the tournament he was using his big body but you could see the wheels turning. Now he’s seeing the floor, shooting quickly (if not well), making instinctive passes. The game appears to be moving more slowly for him, like he’s in tune. That’s not bad. Sometimes guys don’t develop that at all in their first Summer League trip.
SD: Kudos to the Blazers' coaching staff too, they've put Swanigan in comfortable spots on offense. He has connected on two midrange shots to open things up, one from each elbow.
DD: Credit to Swangian for having a comfort zone. Most players who come through have one of two: dunk or some kind of baseline shot. That Swanigan is shooting from two different elbow shots fluidly shows a lot about him. Plus his passing...he just hit a cutter down the baseline from that same elbow spot. Multiple threat.
SD: Completely agree, I saw more than one second-year big man who was a deer in the headlights in my week in Las Vegas. Cough, cough, Dragan Bender.
I know it is only Summer League, but I love that Jarnell Stokes is staying in his lane. He fights for every rebound, knows his limitations, exactly what you want to see from a fringe player.
DD: We have a trio of Summer League archetypes here. Zach Collins is the example of what happens when a guy isn’t quite ready yet. Even before the injury he was getting surprised out there. The big bodies and quick pace caught up with him. He needs work. The league can eat up first-round picks like that. Then Stokes is the “Grinder”. You know he’s probably not destined for the big leagues but he has that body, he’s worked on his game, and he knows how to execute. Swanigan is the break-out guy who’s picked it up quick, who isn’t intimidated, and who is going to get a boost headed into training camp. That doesn’t mean he’ll be ready for the next level either but he’s really shown the ability to play...not just with talent, but to merge with and bend the game. It feels like the characters from “Rounders” all out there on the floor.
SD: Swanigan will definitely have some adjustments to make, but hopefully he won't be dependent on Russians munching Oreos to pick up the nuances of the game at the NBA-level.
Perimeter defense, or lack thereof, has reared its ugly head once again for the Blazers.
DD: Yup. Tough finish to the period, but still not a bad first.
San Antonio opened up a small lead early, going inside on Portland again. The Blazers controlled the damage by controlling the glass and keeping their bodies in position on defense. On the other end Swanigan continued assaulting the restricted area. Inside shots and free throws gave them sustenance. Turnovers proved an ally but outside jumpers betrayed them entirely. The Blazers were happy enough to cede the perimeter to the opponent if most of the easy looks were going their way. Portland barely started a set without entering the ball to Swanigan or Stokes first. Meanwhile San Antonio spent a 5:00 stretch mid-quarter without connecting on a field goal. Behind 14 points from Swanigan, the Blazers led 47-40 at the half.
DD: Seeing Summer League players makes you appreciate how tough it is to finish in traffic at the rim in this league. NBA players make it look so easy. Whether it’s guards off the drive or bigs in the post, most of these guys end up with tough, guarded attempts after their finishing move. They’re missing everywhere.
SD: Along with finishing around the rim, you also take for granted how experienced players find open looks in transition. It is shocking to see so many trips down the court end in contested shots, even when the attacking team has a man advantage.
DD: Figuring out what will translate from Summer League into the main league can be difficult, but if you want the basics, at least in this area, ask yourself two things:
- Did the player get separation after his move? If not, he’s either not quick enough, not big enough, or doesn’t have footwork/body control yet.
- Did he finish above the rim?
If neither of those things happens, it almost doesn’t matter if the ball goes in. They won’t even get that shot in actual NBA games. It’ll be snuffed before it leaves their fingers.
SD: I would also throw poise into that list. The game will only get faster as preseason and the regular season approach. If a player can gather and get out of trouble in Summer League, it is a positive sign for their potential as a decision maker at the next level.
DD: I don’t disagree, but mostly you want the players who don’t look like they’re in trouble at Summer League. And speaking of...how about Swanigan dribbling the ball down the floor for Portland? Power forward and center aren’t enough. Why not point guard too?
SD: Any player who can handle the ball not named Damian or CJ will be a major plus for Coach Terry Stotts next season. I doubt he will get that freedom as a rookie, but it nice to know that weapon is in his arsenal. Golden State's fastbreak offense is a total nightmare to cover, and Draymond Green's ability to move the ball quickly up the court is considerable part of that attack.
The Blazers have my favorite group on the floor right now. Hunter, Gutierrez, and Nick Johnson give Portland a plethora of ball handlers. Swanigan and Stokes wreaking havoc in the paint.
DD: We should compliment Portland’s guards. Usually Summer League is guard central. Everybody is trying to make an impression. Guards start most possessions with the ball in their hands and all too often possessions end that way as well. Portland’s guards understand where the gravity lies and they’ve done well complementing their big men rather than freezing them out.
SD: That is the main reason why I've been so impressed with Gutierrez, he rarely looks for his own shot.
It is going to be a sad day when opposing teams take away Swanigan's elbow jumper. He has gotten three completely open looks in the first half, and he has found nothing but the bottom of the net on all three.
DD: With Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic on the floor, they’ll have a hard time taking it away. Think how open Al-Farouq Aminu and Noah Vonleh got last year. Opponents dared them to shoot. If Swanigan keeps calm and shoots on, he’ll look good. If he comes off the bench, though? That’s harder.
The Blazers continued to deliver in the paint in the third like Santa coming down the chimney. Jake Layman gave up a to-that-point futile perimeter game and started diving down low, adding another point of attack. Portland’s jumpers sprayed as wide as an oscillating sprinkler—likely welcome outside in the Vegas heat but inappropriate for Thomas & Mack—but their hold on the rim was unbreakable. San Antonio scored in the lane as well, just not as much. Plus their jumpers weren’t much better. The Blazers finally managed to contain Forbes. Without him, the Spurs didn’t have a way to make up Portland’s lead through the middle of the quarter. Then Swanigan and Stokes took rest in the final minutes. Portland’s shots all came outside. The lane defense evaporated. A 63-53 lead with 2:41 remaining morphed into a 65-all tie at the end of three.
DD: Stokes just ERASED a shot in the lane. He’s emerged so much since Collins went down. I love seeing a guy with physicality who knows how to use it efficiently. Being big is one thing. Translating big into production and intimidation on the court is something to see.
SD: I want the Blazers' to invite Stokes to camp on his effortS alone. Even if he never sees a meaningful minute in Portland, I think it would do the youngsters a world of good to compete against him in practice. The guy never quits hunting for the ball.
DD: That’s a fantastic observation. He just two-hand dunked it as we spoke, which supports your point. Some guys in Summer League play by the numbers. You can see them hitting their marks like students learning how to dance. 1-2-3, show, spin, dive. What’s going on around them almost doesn’t matter. Others are engaged, but primarily with their position and defender. Stokes is connected in the best way...he wants to make a play. He gets on the dance floor and makes everybody else look wooden. He may not have the fanciest steps, but he owns it like a YouTube star.
SD: Speaking of viral stars, Jake Layman almost pulled off another signature dunk. His shot hasn't been falling in this one, but you have to appreciate that he is still grinding. He has been completely fearless when attacking the paint this week, and he has had some heroic efforts defending the rim as well.
DD: He better be fearless attacking the rim cuz he’s been scaring everybody with that shooting percentage. I still love about Layman what I loved about him before the tournament. His fluidity and explosiveness sneak up on you. He has a few bricks in his Lego set. But the finished project isn’t put together yet and I wanted it to be further along here given the competition and the need since Collins and Connaughton went down. It seems like this could be an opportunity to shine and it’s not happening for him. His physical tools are showing, the polish isn’t. But he still has time.
SD: His outside shot has been a house of horrors in Vegas, but he is finding ways to stay effective in the void created by injuries. He just used that sneaky athleticism to create a nice put-back for himself, helping the Blazers maintain their lead.
DD: You’ve hit on it. Operating in the seams and in space is Layman’s specialty. He looks good when he’s slicing and slithering. Whenever he becomes a focal point...well, let’s just say he’s got more Thief in him than Paladin.
SD: Coach Moran needs to put down the 12-sided die on the sideline and get Swanigan or Stokes back in this game. The Blazers have pulled down a few offensive rebounds, but they haven't been able to capitalize on the extra opportunities.
DD: Make a saving throw versus ugly. Portland fell apart in the closing minutes without those two Ah well, I guess it wouldn’t be the Blazers without yo-yo leads.
The Blazers began the fourth going to their bread-and-butter inside. Then Layman went with the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter version, draining a pair of threes that brought his resting teammates to their feet. Portland opened up an 81-74 lead with 5:43 remaining. Layman would connect again off of a Swanigan assist, leaving the Blazers equally-matched with San Antonio in the three-point shooting department while still dominating on the boards and in the lane. Forbes collected his 6th foul with 3:50 remaining, robbing the Spurs of their lifeline. Unfortunately the game got ugly, with whistles blowing on nearly every possession. This kept the clock moving slowly, de-emphasizing the penalties associated with missed shots and turnovers. All of that favored the trailing team, San Antonio. But the whistles quieted in the last three minutes and Portland resumed their aggressive attack. Layman scored 13 in the fourth period. The Blazers hit five threes and limited San Antonio to just one field goal in the paint. Portland ran away with the win, 94-87.
DD: Josh Scott answers the call early in the fourth with a nice move down low and a block. Apparently the Blazers are the Font of Never-Ending Bigs.
SD: It is nice to see Scott showing signs of life after being eviscerated by Jaylen Brown in Portland's second Summer League contest. A few nice offensive rebounds have helped the Blazers rebuild their lead.
DD: Another good Summer League lesson. 99% of people won’t even notice Scott out there. Yet if he walked into your office, he’d be the most athletic person there by several orders of magnitude. You’d notice so hard you’d have trouble getting work done. If he played in your pick-up game he’d destroy everyone without breaking a sweat. When you’re in Vegas and stand next to these guys as they practice their craft, you see it. They’re pretty incredible.
SD: A lot of these guys were stars at their last stop, and while the NBA isn't in everyone's future, plenty of these players will continue their basketball career in some capacity.
Circling back to your point from earlier, Swanigan just had a gorgeous put-back shot. He created space on the rebound, and rose above the rim to finish. Yes it is only Summer League, but it is tough to stay grounded when looking at certain parts of his game.
DD: Sometimes “only Summer League” doesn’t matter. There’s no guarantee he’ll get minutes or look as good in the Show, but some of his skills will transfer. He has the confidence and the vision to use them. That’s the trifecta...the only things necessary. He may not be as good as he looks here, but he’s looked as good as he can here. That’s the point.
And Layman connects on his third triple of the quarter! I guess he’s a slow starter? Or he read my commentary over my shoulder. Take that, Dave!
SD: Not to take anything away from Jake, but Swanigan bull-dozed three Spurs' players to get Layman a second opportunity on that possession. I will credit Layman's ability to move without the ball, however, he is coming off screens extremely quick.
DD: You also have to ask, what do the Blazers want out of their forwards? Move around, hit an open shot, help with defense, rebound...several of their candidates in Summer League could fill those roles. Nobody will be Aminu...that’s a key issue. The Blazers may need more help than this group can provide, at least early on. But the extra passing and maybe(?) Collins’ ability to block shots could give them a couple extra wrinkles. But if you ask me long-term whether I think Aminu and Noah Vonleh will be the answer or whether a group of moving, passing, scoring forwards would look better, I’m with the latter. Defense though... (sigh)
SD: The good news is that Swanigan checks a few of those boxes. He has moved well in space when defending the perimeter, found open teammates, and he has scored on all three levels. Given Vonleh's uncertain future after this year, I'm going to continue to buy Swanny stock all season.
DD: It’s certainly hot right now. But Swanigan may be a bit over-valued and Collins under-valued after Summer League. Training camp is another reset, then pre-season, then the one that matters.
SD: Agreed, Collins had some impressive moments on defense in his limited action. Most of the problems that plagued him are a result of him being just 19 years old. His defensive upside will only increase as he matures.
DD: Jarnell Stokes just hit a three. This is over.
SD: Portland lives to fight another day. I am hoping for a date with the Grizzlies. Wayne Selden and Deyonta Davis both pose interesting problems for the Blazers, I'm curious to see if they'll be able to solve them.
DD: We’ll have that game for everyone tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 pm, Pacific. Join us then!
After going 0-for-4 in the first half from beyond the arc, Jake Layman finished the game 3-for-9 from the 3-point line with 23 points total.
Bryn Forbes, the Summer League's leading scorer, was held to 13 before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
The Blazers dominated the glass, winning the rebounding battle 48-31.
Of those 48 rebounds, 21 were offensive.
The Blazers feasted on turnovers, forcing San Antonio into 20 while committing just 9.
The Blazers advance to the Semi-Final round to face the winner of this afternoon’s Memphis Grizzlies vs Miami Heat contest. Their Semi-Final game will tip Sunday at 3:00 PM PST.