The Portland Trail Blazers opened up 2017 Summer League competition today, playing Game 1 versus the Utah Jazz. It wasn’t the prettiest effort ever but Blazers fans got a good look at first-round picks Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan, plus a 72-63 victory ... a good day in all.
Portland’s starting five of Zach Collins, Caleb Swanigan, Jake Layman, Pat Connaughton, and RJ Hunter is both tall and long. They took full advantage in the opening moments of this game, punishing the Jazz with rebounding, dunks, and post moves. What they lacked in ball-handling they made up for with nice passing.
Utah got players free off of superior lateral quickness, but whenever they missed the ensuing shot, the Blazers scooped up the carom with ease. Though Portland’s point of attack defense may have been lacking somewhat, their big players had no problem getting up and down the floor. They were fast, if not entirely agile.
If the Blazers could have hit a jumper, they’d have run away with the game. They couldn’t. Their scoring stalled until Layman and Collins hit threes to boost them.
Whatever problems Portland had with their jumpers, the Jazz were worse. Utah’s litany of outside shots produced almost no points; the Blazers had the middle locked down. Portland led 18-12 after one.
The second quarter started much as the first did, with both teams missing every face-up shot they took. This provided an interesting glimpse at Swanigan, whose body and reach allowed him to bother attempts inside and swallow up rebounds. Portland continued to block shots and force turnovers, generating easy buckets and preventing same. Anchored by Swanigan and Collins, the Blazers’ defense helped well against screens, scrambled actively when they lost containment, kept their hands and feet busy. Utah missed a ton of awkward attempts. So did Portland, though. The Jazz eventually got a trio of three-point attempts to fall, mostly via law of averages; they shot nine in the period. Utah led 32-30 at the half.
Shots started falling early in the third quarter as the Blazers picked up the tempo.
But Utah’s bigs pulled a reversal on Portland, swatting back multiple looks inside and forcing the Blazers to rely on jumpers. But the Blazers wouldn’t settle. Instead of lofting from the perimeter, the continued driving and generated free throw attempts. They’d make a living at the line in the quarter.
Portland’s faster pace also led to more turnovers, plus the defense looked slightly winded, closing out slower and anticipating rebounds rather than preventing shots. Collins appeared to fold into himself as his low post offense went nowhere but Swanigan remained active, mobile, and in tune with the game. In the end, tempo and foul shots helped the Blazers more than continuing to generate (then brick) decent looks helped the Jazz. Portland led 54-44 after three.
Portland’s offense found their rhythm at the start of the fourth, as reserves punished the Jazz with layups that soon turned to drives with kick-outs for three-pointers. It was classic efficiency offense, every shot coming at the rim or beyond the arc. The Jazz were no fools, responding in kind. It was too late. The resulting trade of basket for basket favored the Blazers and their lead. Portland cruised home to the 72-63 victory and are 1-0 in Summer League, 2017 competition.
Double-figures: Four of the five Blazers starters scored in double digits. But it wasn’t the four under full contract; Swanigan scored 16, Layman 13, Hunter 12, and 10 for Collins. The odd man out? Pat Connaughton. He shot 0-for-5 and finished with zero points. His passing led to six assists, though.
Rebounds: The Blazers led Utah, 43-32. Swanigan’s 13 rebounds were a significant factor, but Collins and Jorge Gutierrez added 7.
Shooting: Only one starter shot .500 or over today, Layman’s 4-8.
Three-pointers: Every starter hit at least one three-pointer, except Connaughton. Even Swanigan got in on the three-point action. But no starter shot better than .333 from downtown.
Blocks: Collins may have told Jason Quick that he was “terrible” today, but he led the Blazers with 4 blocks.
News Editor David MacKay will have an on-site report later, then staff writers Steve Dewald and Brian Freeman will bring their own unique perspective from Las Vegas.
Next Game: Tomorrow, Blazers vs. Celtics at 5:30 pm on CSN NW and ESPN2.