The Portland Trail Blazers, as the 16-seed in the Las Vegas Summer League tournament, had a daunting road to the final versus the Los Angeles Lakers Monday night at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of UNLV. They had to beat the top-seeded Raptors, a Spurs team that soundly beat them a few days prior and the Grizzlies, a team that had not yet tasted defeat in Las Vegas, to make it to Monday’s final. Portland found themselves trailing by double digits in more than one of those games, only to extend their tournament run by rallying in the second half.
But winning that way can take a toll, especially when there’s little for recuperation in between games. So while it might have been disappointing, it wasn’t necessarily surprising to see the Trail Blazers, playing their sixth game in seven days, fade in the second half of Monday’s game before eventually falling 110-98 to the Lakers in the summer league tournament final.
“I was telling them after the game this is my first coaching experience, I haven’t coached high school or anything,” said assistant coach Jim Moran, who has been acting head coach during summer league. “To be in that locker room and see a group of guys who have only been together for two weeks, to see them actually care about each other and compete at that level, it was a lot of fun for me. I just thanked them for the opportunity because they were a great group to coach.”
With the loss, the Trail Blazers finish their Las Vegas Summer League schedule with a 5-3 record after getting off to a 1-2 start. It is the first time that the Trail Blazers have won five games in summer league play.
The Trail Blazers got off to their best start at summer league Monday night, leading by as many as eight points while shooting 48 percent from the field and 36 percent from three in the first quarter. But the Lakers, a team also playing their third game in as many days, brought the same intensity and shot even better from both the field and three, resulting in Portland taking just a three-point lead into the second quarter.
Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma tied the game with a three-pointer to start the second quarter, though Portland would manage to retain the lead until Kuzma finished an and-1 to give L.A. their first lead at 56-55 with 38 seconds to play in the half. Jake Layman and Caleb Swanigan would answer back with four-straight points to reclaim the lead at 59-58 at the intermission.
But there were signs early in the third quarter that Portland had reached the point of exhaustion. They were able to stay close though most of the third quarter due to their shooting, but their defensive breakdowns, be it getting back in transition or closing out on shooters, became more and more frequent as the half wore on.
“Everybody’s legs were tired at that point,” said Layman. “It was the final game though, you’ve got to push through it.”
By the end of the quarter, Portland couldn’t keep up at either end, leading the way for a 13-0 Laker run spanning from the 1:28 mark in the third to the 7:20 mark in the fourth. The Trail Blazers managed to cut L.A.’s lead to seven after a Layman three-pointer with just under seven minutes to play, but this time, there would be no comeback for the Trail Blazers.
“I was just happy with the way the guys competed,” said Moran. “They competed, they kept fighting. Got it back to seven in the fourth quarter when Jake hit those two threes so I really thought that could have been a turning point for us. But they worked hard, they kept at it, I’m proud of the way the summer league went for them.”
Swanigan, named to the All Summer League First Team prior to Monday’s game, finished with his fifth double-double of summer league play with 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting, 12 rebounds, seven assists and three steals in 35 minutes.
“We came out here and competed and we won games,” said Swanigan. “That was my biggest thing I wanted to do and came and did that.”
The 6-9 forward selected by Portland with the 26th pick of the 2017 Draft, finishes summer league averaging 16.1 points and 10.6 rebound and joins Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and Marreese Speights as the only rookies to average a double-double in summer league play.
“(Swanigan) works his tail off, he’s a great kid,” said Moran. “Every time the ball is up in the air, he thinks he’s got a shot at the rebound and there’s not a lot of guys in this league, at this level in summer league, that do stuff like that. I thought he had a really good summer league, I’m happy he made first-team honors. He definitely deserved it.”
Layman finished with 21 points on 8-of-19 shooting, seven rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal in 29 minutes. After a slow start shooting, Layman averaged 17.4 points per game during tournament play and while playing solid defense throughout his sting in Las Vegas.
“I felt good the last couple games driving to the rack,” said Layman. “My shot felt better as well. I was just trying to stay aggressive.”
Jarnell Stokes, who also had a great run through the tournament playing in place of the injured Zach Collins (thigh contusion), finished with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting, five rebounds and three steals in 29 minutes. Jorge Gutierrez, who also say his minutes increase due to Pat Connaughton sitting out the tournament with a hamstring strain, added 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting and five assists in 34 minutes.
The Lakers were led by Kuzma, who went 11-of-16 from the field and 6-of-10 from three for 30 points while also grabbing 10 rebounds. Matt Thomas went a perfect 5-of-5 from three and a nearly perfect 8-of-9 from the field for 20 points.