Blazers overcome slow start, driving Watford’s big night for 88-77 win over Knicks

After a freezing start to their third Summer League game, it didn’t seem likely, but thanks to a tightened defense and an even batting average, the Portland Trail Blazers managed to turn a 13-0 deficit into an 88-77 win over the New York Knicks, a 24-point turn.

The Blazers weren’t short of standouts, perhaps none more notable than Trendon Watford. Aggression back to a physical Knicks defense propelled the soon-to-be sophomore to the lead with 18 points and six rebounds. Right behind him, second-round pick Jabari Walker continued his fantastic game with 16 points (in just eight shots) and 13 rebounds. Three other Blazers – Craig Randall II, Keon Johnson and Brandon Williams – scored in double figures and helped Portland win 2-1 in the Summer League.

First quarter:

Here’s how you might start (the synopsis, not the game): It took the Trail Blazers nearly six minutes to score their first field goal. With that long-term perspective, the likes of Trendon Watford and Brandon Williams deserve credit for getting the wheels turning with aggressive takes into the basket. It fits into a theme familiar to this group: if they can’t get a bucket, at least they can reach the free-throw line. This proved beneficial as her shot selection was occasionally spotty.

However, thanks to an offensive barrage from Feron Hunt, Miles McBride and Quentin Grimes, the Knicks had carved out a 13-0 lead before the Blazers could see the ball go through the net. A mix of too much help and the Knicks’ accuracy proved costly for the Blazers. One team scored 24 points in the opening frame; the other struggled to shoot 24 percent. As a result, Portland had a surge and was down 24-9 after one.

Second quarter:

It could be that Richard Jefferson’s reigning debut boded well for the Blazers. Immediately after his arrival, Portland opened an eventual 19-4 run that was anchored by selfless play by that second unit. Portland also went with a zone to stifle the Knicks’ rhythm.

Jabari Walker, a strong contender to become one of the Blazers’ last squad spots, was impressed again, although he wasn’t alone. Craig Randall carried over the “man down, hand down” theory with a couple of smooth left-handed triples and the rest of this group followed suit.

After an occasionally shaky start to the Summer League, Watford have been impressive. It’s hard to tell if he’s built muscle or not, but his bulldozing drive against bigs before transitioning into his signature floater is a potent mix of strength and skill. He was a focus in that second quarter, acting from the top of the keys, helping set up the movement etc. Through teamwork they eventually forced a tie.

As Portland sought the transition from tying the game Take the lead, one thing you would have liked to see would be a couple of Brandon Williams’ three-pointers being dropped. His speed and whistling ability make him a menace in any situation, but after shooting under 30 percent on 106 attempts – and one in nine in this game – it felt like seeing as seen some more of those drops. Nonetheless, a moment later you’re looking at the box score… he’s the second-best scorer.

As the young Blazers finally settled into the game and adjusted to their physicality, they turned a 15-point deficit into a 37-36 lead in ten minutes.

Third quarter:

During the hard-fought third quarter, two trends began to emerge: (1) The Blazers were creative in continuing to disrupt the flow of the Knicks by working the occasional zone and even a full-court press.

The second: Trendon Watford and Quentin Grimes seemed deadlocked in a duel to see who could be the most influential player in Las Vegas at 10:00 p.m. (That probably sounds like a SportsCenter stat). The two exchanged highlights, one from the outside, the other along the interior. Jericho Sims of the Knicks made a cameo with some flashy games — the kind of games where you have to remember who you’re cheering for — and the two helped the Knicks regain a slight advantage.

Along with some other quick notes: The Blazers’ defensive efforts and rotations at the end of this quarter were brilliant, with the likes of George King, Walker, Kyle Alexander, Randall II and Colbey Ross working in perfect sync. With a lively 10-3 run, Portland finished the period and held a 59-57 advantage going into the fourth round.

Fourth quarter:

It’s likely you watched the fourth quarter with a smile, watching as the Blazers stitched together competent plays at either end to kick-start the fourth quarter. The Randall-Ross-Alexander grouping each added their highlights, but given Portland’s immediate prospects, the mini-acquisition of Jabari Walker earlier in the quarter will be worth mentioning.

Walker, calm and collected, rose to let off a 3-pointer against the slightly lax Knicks defense. Moments later, he had an alley-oop jam on a smooth feed from Keon Johnson; moments later, he corralled a defensive rebound to set up a quick break, then rushed the length of the floor to collect a miss, earning a score. Before you knew it, the number 57 had another double-double.

Games like this helped open the floodgates; Greg Brown III added his dunk reel, Brandon Williams found his 3-point flick, and Portland had established a double-digit lead.

Next:

box score

The Blazers finish Thursday’s Summer League game against the Houston Rockets at 6:30 p.m.

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