LAS VEGAS — After two straight losses, the Portland Trail Blazers started tournament play at the Las Vegas Summer League the same way they started the preliminary round: by overcoming a slow start while securing a convincing victory.
With Pat Connaughton (left hamstring strain), Zach Collins (right quad contusion) and Markel Brown (right shoulder strain) all sideline for the rest of summer league, the Trail Blazers got increased production from Jake Layman, Caleb Swanigan and Jarnell Stokes to lift Portland to an 88-77 victory versus the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the Las Vegas Summer League tournament Wednesday night at COX Pavilion on the campus of UNLV.
“That slow start kind of leaks into your defense and guys aren’t as amped up to get back on defense, but it was good,” said assistant coach Jim Moran, who is handling head coaching duties for the Trail Blazers in Las Vegas. “Guys stayed with it, kept fighting. I thought we made some really nice plays in transition and just kind of stuck together and grinded one out.”
With the win, the Trail Blazers are now 2-2 in summer league play. They now moves on to play the No. 1 seeded Toronto Raptors in the second round of tournament play.
The Trail Blazers have had a habit of getting off to slow starts throughout summer league play, and Wednesday game was no exception. They would trail by as many as 10 points in the first quarter and shot just 4-of-21 from the field in the first 10 minutes of play, but with the Bulls shooting just 6-of-16, the Trail Blazers were able to go into the second quarter down by just six.
In the second, both Layman and Swanigan came to life on the offensive end. Layman, after going 0-of-3 from the field in the first quarter, put up 10 points on 50 percent shooting in the second, getting himself and his team some much needed offensive rhythm in the process.
“My shots still not falling,” said Layman, “but I’m attacking the rim, being aggressive, playing good defense.”
Swanigan, by far Portland’s most consistent performer during the 2017 summer league, started the game by missing his first five shots, but rebounded in the second to finish with 11 points and six rebounds in the first half.
But even with Layman and Swanigan upping their games, the Trail Blazers weren’t able to make up much of their first-quarter deficit, going into the intermission trailing 41-35. Even though the Bulls were also playing within Lauri Markkanen and Paul Zipser, the Trail Blazers still needed another player to have an impact if they were going to avoid the summer league loser bracket.
That assistance would come from Stokes, who put up 10 points and eight points in the third quarter. With Stokes, a 6-9 center out of Tennessee, and Swanigan playing bully ball against a smaller lineup, the Trail Blazers were able to outscore the Bulls 26-20 in the third and go into the fourth with the game tied at 61-61.
“They tried to go small and we definitely made them deal with it,” said Swanigan. “They tried to put the five on me, which, when you have Jarnell in the game, he’s going to go at the smaller guy. We took advantage of our mismatch.”
Between Layman firing away, Swanigan and Stokes locking down the paint and both RJ Hunter and Nick Johnson finding their range from three, the Trail Blazers were able to build a 14-point fourth-quarter lead before coming away with the 11-point victory.
Layman finished with 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals in 35 minutes.
“I’m still riding Jake, I always think he should be more aggressive, more offensive-minded,” said Moran. “He’s been doing a great job defensively, I think there’s times where he comes off screens where he should be looking to shoot and he’s not, so I stay on him about that stuff, we kind of go back and forth. He made some shots today, I think he overall had a really good game, but I still would like to see him be a little more aggressive.”
Caleb Swanigan came one rebound short of yet another double-double, finishing with 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting, nine rebounds, two assists and a block in 27 minutes. Stokes did get a double-double with 16 points and 17 rebounds, also in 27 minutes.
“Having Caleb and Jarnell, two grown men down there, just getting extra possessions for us, getting extra shots, finishing, getting rebounds and putbacks, that stuff’s huge,” said Moran. “It’s deflating for a defense to play 20-plus second of solid defense, get a contested shot just to give up an offensive rebound and a bucket. I know how deflating that is. That was huge for us, it kept us in the game, it got us our lead.”
Both Hunter and Johnson finished with 11 points while Jorge Gutierrez, who started Wednesday in place of Connaughton, added six points.
The Bulls were led by Antonio Blakeney, who went 7-of-17 from the field and 11-of-17 from the free throw line for 27 points and 11 rebounds. Brady Heslip added 14 points and Denzel Valentine finished with 13 points and seven assists.
Next up, the Trail Blazers advance to play the Raptors in the second round of the Las Vegas Summer League Tournament Thursday night at COX Pavilion. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm on NBA TV.