Blazers shake slow start, overcome rockets for gritty 85-77 victory

For the third time during their four-game Summer League game, the Portland Trail Blazers dug themselves into a hole, trailing by double-digits after the opening quarter. For the third time, it did not do much either. By channeling a mix of selflessness and grumpiness the rest of the way, Portland was able to drive that momentum to an 85-77 victory over the Houston Rockets.

Over the course of the four games, Portland have surpassed opponents with a score of 96-54 in the second quarter, and they quickly shook those tremors off again tonight. The boxing result showed only one double-digit goal scorer – Keon Johnson led by 25 points on a pristine 8-of-13 shot – but nine different players scored six or more in the win. Below are a few quarter by quarter thoughts on victory.

First quarter:

It’s hard to tell if it’s because of the Rockets’ defensive staff, a coaching focus or just a flow of play, but the Trail Blazers looked particularly keen on getting shot attempts right at the edge. Each of their first five shot attempts was inside the arc. Not that it necessarily meant anything; because not many of those layups fell, Portland once again found themselves down by double digits early in the first quarter for the third time in their four Summer League games.

However, there were positive things to find. If you made a list of “Things to Hope For” ahead of the summer shows, it would have been somewhere at the top of the list to see Greg Brown III take that leap as an impressive rim protector. He took his fly swatter to the grill tonight with three blocks in his first six minutes – one of them was so nice that he blocked it twice – and after getting his well-deserved sub, the Blazers went to that zone defense again to try and keep the Rockets in check.

Unfortunately, No. 3 pick Jabari Smith had other plans for the Blazers’ zone defense, and Portland could only muster a 4-of-18 shooting performance in the first quarter to offset that. Pair the two together and you end up with a 28-14 deficit after one.

Second quarter:

The second quarter has been friendly to this year’s Summer League Blazers, and after a mini-takeover from Kyle Alexander, it looked like the fourth time would continue to set that pattern. On their way into tonight, Portland had surpassed Summer League opponents by a margin of 74-41 (!), And they opened here with an 8-0 run.

It seemed to matter who both teams put on the floor when it came to consistent put the ball in the net, but thanks to Alexander’s pick-and-roll feats, Jabari Walker’s predictable gravel and some teamwork from the Ross-Randall-Louzada group, forced the Portland Rockets to go half a quarter without a goal.

The big question now: could the starters keep the wheels lubricated on that ride? Incredibly, the Blazers missed 26-of-37 from the field in the first half, but thanks to a timely warm-up from Keon Johnson, along with production at both ends from Brown III and Watford, Portland were able to remain competitive, trailing just 41- 36 after two.

Third quarter:

It is very possible that Steve Hetzel had Rocky playing during the break. When they came out of the locker room, the Blazers had a tangible edge to their game, attacking passing lanes and aggressively (and selfless) takes to the edge to score.

In what was perhaps most inspiring, it was a five-player effort, anchored by Luka Garza’s inside-out play. As always, the other unit helped to continue that energy. The nocturnal Jabari Walker highlight you requested? Here is one that stood out:

Ironically, revenue was a bit of a saving grace for the Rockets. NBATV ran a graphic midway through the third that showed Houston had earned a 23-2 advantage in points from turnovers. Even with only a single double-digit goal scorer (at this point) and their No. 3 goal scorer in Brandon Williams kept without a field goal, the Blazers were able to run off with a 27-13 advantage in the third quarter, guiding them to a 63-54 lead on the way into fourth.

Fourth quarter:

As expected, the Rockets were able to make a small push with Aric Holman and Tari Eason making play to keep Houston within striking distance. A combination of missed free throws, expensive turnovers and high-energy plays from Houston enabled them with only a four-point deficit with less than five minutes to play.

Every game there is always a hallmark of one of the long-term Blazers players that stands out. This quarter, it was perhaps Williams’ confidence that stood out. At one point of this game, Williams was 0-of-6 with six turnovers, but his ability to remain confident and get to his seats stood out. With Portland clinging to a small lead, he had a dribble pull-up and a couple of clever passes that helped keep the edge.

It was not a pretty shooting night from him, though luckily he had teammates, namely Keon Johnson, who were able to rise to the occasion for clutch shots when the Blazers needed them most.

Johnson, whose 14.7 points in the Summer League was among the top 50 and No. 1 on the Blazers, hit a timely 3-pointer to stretch the lead to nine, and the Blazers were able to gather a few more highlights and keep their lead, on the way to a comfortable victory and a record of 3-1.


Box Score

The Blazers – one of five teams that have 3-1 – were able to crack the top four and will be in contention to get to the Summer League Championship series, although a match or opponent has not yet been decided as there are remarkable matches on tomorrow’s board.

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