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Trail Blazers Swing Big, Fall Hard Against Lakers in NBA Summer League Championship

Portland scored 98 behind Caleb Swanigan’s game of the tournament, but can’t survive the death of a thousand cuts.

NBA: Summer League-Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Lakers Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Summer League 2017 concluded tonight with the Portland Trail Blazers falling one game shy of the ultimate goal, succumbing to a Los Angeles Lakers squad missing Summer League MVP Lonzo Ball. As it turned out, the Lakers didn’t need their first-round pick to put Portland on the ropes. The Blazers carried muscle into the game but L.A. anticipated their need to score inside. Portland’s burly bruisers couldn’t return the favor, chasing the Lakers all over the floor in futility. Portland’s shooting chart resembled a shotgun pattern full of misses while the Lakers scored with surgical precision. The battle was hard-fought, but the Lakers pulled away in the end, earning the NBA Summer League championship with a 110-98 win.

First Quarter

This game started out in atypical fashion for the Blazers in a couple ways:

  1. They started fast instead of slowly.
  2. Their scoring came on three-pointers rather than in the lane.

Jorge Gutierrez nailed a couple of threes, R.J. Hunter one as Portland attempted an incredible 9 of their first 10 shots from beyond the arc. Evidently the Blazers’ game plan read, “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.” At least it was novel. Nobody would have expected Portland to take 90% of their shots from 22 feet and out.

Unfortunately for the Blazers, most of their attempts didn’t fall. L.A.’s own triples kept them ahead 13-12 with 5:00 remaining.

The pace was frenetic through most of the quarter. Fast play opened up more shots for Portland but it opened up better shots for the Lakers. While the Blazers stayed on the perimeter, the Lakers mixed it up more. They outran Portland on the fast break and hit jumpers over slow-closing Blazers defenders.

As the quarter wound to a close the Blazers slowed down, settled down, and began to push inside more. L.A. stayed hot from the arc, connecting on 5 of 6 shots from distance. But Jarnell Stokes scored at the rim while Caleb Swanigan rebounded 6 and dished 4 assists. Portland led 30-27 after one.

Second Quarter

The good and bad faces of Portland’s lineup showed up simultaneously as the second quarter began. Stokes continued to pound inside, demanding defenders stay with him, keeping passing lanes and perimeter shots open as a result. But he had trouble rotating on defense when the Lakers moved the ball side to side. Whatever the Blazers gained on offense, they gave away on the other end.

As the quarter continued the Lakers announced their intentions to wear the varnish off the floor beyond the three-point arc. Portland showed little ability to inhibit them. Even in 2017, though, inside shots tend to hit at higher percentages than outside shots. Portland’s size and footwork began to tell.

Portland built a 48-40 lead with 4:00 remaining. They desperately defended it, even throwing a zone defense to cover space without requiring as much mobility. L.A. laughed in their faces, pushing the ball to the rim through the seams. Portland’s lead evaporated in barely over a minute.

The Blazers did find success with jumpers as L.A. continued to close off the lane, but perimeter shooting wasn’t enough to push them to a clear lead. Jake Layman gave the Blazers 7 points in the period, employing his usual lawnmower technique: “Stutter... cough... stutter... now I’m going to mow you down.” His timely boost gave Portland a 59-58 edge at the half.

Third Quarter

The Blazers began the third period trying to go inside, but the teeth of the Lakers defense chomped them. Swanigan continued to loft passes into the paint, but L.A. stood ready and Portland couldn’t convert. Scoring slowed considerably.

The Lakers had no trouble getting the ball inside and converting, but turnovers kept them from getting off enough shots to matter. Portland’s lead remained at 1, 68-67, with 5:00 left.

Still, things were not going Portland’s way. Swanigan took plenty of shots in the quarter but few of them came in his native, post area. His face-up jumper wasn’t working. The Lakers didn’t have to respect anything but his pass. With passing lanes cut off and outside shots not falling, the Blazers were forced to scramble for most of their offense.

R.J. Hunter gave Portland a shot in the arm in the final minutes of the third, hitting a three and a layup, echoing Layman’s performance in the second period. But L.A. was still firing efficiently. They knifed inside for easy layups. When the Blazers committed to stopping that, the Lakers found open perimeter shooters and rang up threes. If L.A. could have contained their turnovers, they might have finished the quarter up double digits. As it was, they needed a Kyle Kuzma triple at the buzzer to take an 84-79 lead into the final period. This was the first time the Lakers had been up by more than 4.

Fourth Quarter

The Blazers lost control of the game at the start of the fourth. There’s no pretty way to say it. They stood around on offense, holding the ball and waiting for the Lakers defense to part. It never did. The resulting iso face-up shots looked uglier than a Big Baller Brand prototype. Portland began the period 0-5 from the field. Meanwhile the Lakers hit a layup, a corner three, and a straight-away jumper. L.A. pushed the lead to 92-79 with 7:30 left.

Layman pulled out the shock paddles with a pair of threes with 7:00 remaining, trying to restart Portland’s heart. The Lakers connecting on 5 of 7 shots on the other end was pure cholesterol through the arteries, gumming things up again.

A pair of offensive plays surrounding the 4:00 mark typified Portland’s evening. Swanigan connected on a pretty three-pointer, bringing yet another ray of hope. On the very next possession he caught on the right side and attempted to take it inside, only to get snuffed by a pair of defenders. Portland’s All-Tournament star looked great on one play, helpless on the next.

The Lakers were fine with Portland taking any shots they wanted except their standard ones. At the point Swanigan got blocked, the Blazers had connected on 3 of 5 three-pointers in the fourth period but had not hit a single shot inside the arc. They would not connect on a two-pointer until Layman dunked with 40 seconds remaining in the game. Occasional offensive sparks punctuated by cold, wet doses of defensively-deficient reality weren’t near enough to keep L.A. from their 110-98 victory.


The Blazers played on a sloping roof in this one. The Lakers knew where Portland wanted to score and with whom...mostly Swanigan and Stokes in the paint. They kept bodies down there and dared the Blazers to shoot over them. Portland connected on an impressive 13-33 triples. But they couldn’t stop L.A. from exceeding them with 14-24. Swanigan and Stokes stills scored—putting up 25 and 16 respectively—but their production slowed as the game progressed and L.A.’s ramped up.

This was less a game of streaks than percentages. Portland couldn’t stop L.A. from scoring. At first they kept up, but over time they slipped farther and farther until calamity struck.

39.4% three-point shooting for Portland looks impressive, but not compared to 58.3% from the Lakers.

25 points and 12 rebounds from Swanigan might have been decisive except for Kyle Kuzma scoring 30 on 11-16 shooting with 10 rebounds.

Portland put 5 players into double figures; their starters scored 87 points. The Lakers put 6 players into double figures. Their starters posted 100.

This game moved fast, with the teams combining for 152 shots. It became a fencing match, a contest of nimbleness rather than strength. Had Portland been able to bull their way up that sloped roof to the peak, they might have pushed the Lakers over the other side. Instead L.A. kept them pivoting and swirling, running to catch up. By the early part of the fourth period the heels of Portland’s boots were slipping over the edge. Their desperate leap to gain solid position again left them dangling. A couple L.A. shots were enough to push them over.

The Blazers attacked plenty tonight, attempting 87 shots to 65 for L.A. But they never got leverage because the opponent chose the battlefield and style. In the end, Portland’s 22 extra shots resulted in 24 more misses...a fitting epitaph for a contest they never really controlled.

Significant Stats

The Blazers generated those extra shots via turnovers (L.A. committed 19) and offensive rebounds (Portland won that battle 12-2). The defensive disparity reduced the significance to naught. Portland’s starters missed 39 attempts; the Lakers starters missed but 20. Of six Lakers who attempted a field goal, four of them shot 58% or above. Kuzma and Matt Thomas combined for 11-15 shooting from three-point range.

Scoring 98 in a 40-minute game was an offensive dream, giving up 110 a defensive nightmare.

Up Next

This concludes Portland’s 2017 Summer League run. We’ll be recapping the experience over the next couple days, plus keeping you informed on potential Carmelo Anthony deals. (Pro Tip: He has to be moved; it’s just a matter of where and for what.) After that we’ll pivot towards the new season, the recovery of Jusuf Nurkic, and all the prospects the Blazers might have for improvement in 2017-18.

Getting ready to publish. Thanks, Brian!

Thank you dave!! this was fun, i learned a lot. i appreciate you letting me in