Hail to the Champions! The Portland Trail Blazers are 2022 NBA Summer League winners, besting the New York Knicks 85-77 in the title game with a combination of tenacious and effective defense, high energy offense, alley-oops and dunks.
Read that sentence again. Yes, it’s only Summer League, but these guys went out and played the way that Blazers’ fans have been pining for years. It’s not the Larry O’Brien trophy, but the Summer League Blazers earned every bit of this championship. After a down 2021-2022 season, fans needed some fun and these guys delivered.
As a bonus, Blazers forward Trendon Watford was named the MVP by a unanimous vote. He did a little bit of everything over the course of Summer League, and when push came to shove, he showed up when it mattered the most, producing a monster fourth quarter today to seal the deal.
It may be Summer League, but that doesn’t mean nerves aren’t a factor. Instead of the electric start fans might have hoped for, they got sloppiness, turnovers, missed shots and poor execution from both teams.
Nearly two minutes expired before Luka Garza broke the scoring drought by splitting a pair of free throws for the Blazers, but the turnovers and missed shots continued for both teams.
The good news for Portland is the defense looked active and effective. Any chance the Blazers would ride their rather stout defense to a big lead was erased by the fact they couldn’t hold on to the ball. Eight turnovers and poor shooting meant few points for Portland, while seven turnovers and poor shooting from the Knicks meant a tight, low-scoring game after one quarter. New York finished the frame leading 14-12.
Portland has owned the second quarter in Summer League, and three unanswered treys from the Blazers gave hope this game would follow that favorable pattern. The Knicks fought back by aggressively challenging the Blazers’ defense head on, drawing some fouls and making some some tough shots in traffic.
Watford and Brandon Williams were especially impressive in the second half of the quarter, showcasing a highly effective two-man game and helping the Blazers build a lead. Watford was good for five points in the quarter, while Williams poured in eight.
A pair of Jabari Walker free throws extended the Portland lead to 13 before the Knicks converted a pair of their own to close out the quarter, cutting the Blazers lead down to 11 going into the locker room.
12 of the Knicks’ 16 points came from the charity stripe, which isn’t ideal for Portland. Still, I don’t think Coach Steve Hetzel will be too angry at the number of fouls. Some of the calls appeared a bit on the weak side, while others were a result of excellent penetration from New York. The Blazers were making the Knicks earn every point, something we haven’t said about any iteration of the Blazers for some time.
Portland continued what it established in the second quarter, making the Knicks work incredibly hard for a basket on one end and creating quality opportunities with good team play and crisp ball movement on the other.
The highlight was a brilliant pass into the lane by Didi Louzada, finding a cutting Keon Johnson who spun and dunked with authority, leaving the Knicks no choice but to call a timeout with the Blazers up by 16.
KEON. JOHNSON. CAN. JUMP. pic.twitter.com/2VZG5PzcR3— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) July 17, 2022
Knicks guard Quentin Grimes did his best to keep Portland from running away with it, being involved in nearly every successful play the Knicks could muster for much of the quarter. The 25th pick in the 2021 draft was impressive, scoring some difficult shots and setting the table for others with poise and fluidity. The Blazers largely fended off the comeback attempt, finishing the quarter up by 14.
The Knicks needed to make a run, and that’s exactly what they did. A few threes in the face of well-positioned Portland defenders, some more energetic plays from Grimes and a few ugly Portland miscues on the offensive end allowed New York to cut the lead to just seven, forcing a timeout.
The Blazers regrouped, and Watford decided he’d had enough. When Portland needed someone to step up, he answered the call with nine points, an assist and a rebound over the last seven minutes of the game. He finished the game with 19 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and a block.
Portland built the lead back up to 14 points with just under two minutes to go, but New York wasn’t waiving the white flag yet. A Miles McBride three cut it to 9 and a pair of free throws by Grimes cut it to 7 with 49.5 seconds to go. After some difficulty getting the inbounds pass, the Blazers were able to get down the court, kill some time and force the Knicks into fouling. Four Williams free throws kept New York at bay, and the Blazers held on for the 85-77 victory.
NBA news never stops, but the games do. Next up on the hardcourt for the Blazers is an October 3rd preseason tilt against the Los Angeles Clippers in Seattle.