July 10, 2018, 6:26 pm
The Portland Trail Blazers have prioritized shooting above all else since their decided lack of floor spacing against the New Orleans Pelicans was exploited time and again in a first-round playoff sweep. And if the Blazers’ performance in Las Vegas Summer League against the San Antonio Spurs proves a harbinger of things to come next season, 3-point shooting will be the least of Terry Stotts’ worries. The Blazers, scorching hot from beyond the arc to build a sizable early lead, held on to beat the Spurs 95-89 on Tuesday at Cox Pavilion, moving to a perfect 3-0 in pool play.
Portland, after leading 44-39 at intermission, opened up a 13-point lead on San Antonio with an 8-0 run to begin the third quarter. The Blazers held that lead going into the fourth quarter and extended it to 84-67 with 6:30 remaining, but fell victim to the Spurs’ own shooting onslaught from that point forward. They connected on five triples in the game’s last four minutes, coming within two points of tying the score after a three by Raphiael Putney with 36 seconds left. Fortunately, Caleb Swanigan made five of his six free throws as San Antonio was forced to play the foul game late, helping his team clutch to a well-earned victory.
Gary Trent, Jr., shooting 32 percent through the first two games in Sin City, scored a game-high 20 points for Portland on 7-of-17 shooting and 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. Signed to a relatively pricey guaranteed contract last week, the rookie second-round pick showed off the sense of poise and patience that’s been obvious throughout Summer League play. The only difference this time out is that Trent had the jumper going, giving fans a glimpse of the mature, polished scoring repertoire that has Portland management so excited about his present and future.
— NBA (@NBA) July 10, 2018
Yet it was Wade Baldwin, unsurprisingly, who was again Portland’s best player – and it wasn’t particularly close. Running the show for his team from the opening tip, the 22-year-old guard finished with 16 points, nine assists and five steals on 6-of-12 shooting. Baldwin was his typically disruptive self defensively, igniting the Blazers’ fast-break attack, where he raced the ball up the floor to create scoring opportunities for awaiting teammates. He was especially impressive in pick-and-roll play, mixing in acrobatic finishes with the playmaking nuance of a veteran.
— NBA (@NBA) July 10, 2018
Portland has until July 18 to guarantee Baldwin’s $1.7 million contract for 2018-19. Up against the luxury tax and having spent the vast majority of their offseason resources on guards, the Blazers have reason to move on from the talented former first-round pick. But based on everything that’s transpired thus far in Las Vegas, Baldwin deserves to be on Portland’s roster next season – and perhaps be earmarked for rotation minutes off the bench.
Jake Layman, another summer standout for Portland, connected on 3-of-4 from deep en route to 15 points and eight rebounds. Swanigan fought his way to an impressive line of 12 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals, but struggled to finish on the interior and never found the range on his jumper, going just 2-of-10 from the field. The Blazers were able to extend their halftime lead so quickly courtesy of three third-quarter triples from John Jenkins, who had 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting while staking his claim for an invite to training camp. Teenage first-rounder Anfernee Simons went just 4-of-13 from the field and misfired on each of his three 3-point attempts, but again flashed athletically and made several smart plays on both sides of the ball that belie his lack of high-level playing experience.
At one point in the third quarter, Portland was a red-hot 9-of-12 from 3-point range, good for 75 percent shooting. That’s not a sustainable mark for any team, obviously, and the game’s remainder was evidence of that reality; the Blazers made just two of their next nine tries from distance. With adding capable shooters his team’s clear offseason priority, though, Neil Olshey is no doubt heartened to know that Portland will begin preparations for 2018-19 with a wealth of 3-point shooting at its disposal off the bench.
Portland, undefeated in pool play, will be a top seed in the knockout portion of Las Vegas Summer League, which begins on Wednesday.