Blazers comeback attempt fails, losing 81-78 to Pistons in Summer League opener

The fight between Jaden Ivey, pick No. 5, and Shaedon Sharpe, pick No. 7 was brought to an early end after the Portland Trail Blazers rookie injured his left shoulder. But thanks to a highlight-heavy 20-point performance from Keon Johnson and a hard-fought game from start to finish, those watching the late-night 81-78 loss to the Detroit Pistons were treated to an entertaining matchup.

Brandon Williams picked up where he left off in 2021-22 with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists, and No. 57 Jabari Walker joined him with 11 points on five-of-five shots in double digits. However, that effort was turned on its head by the Pistons, who produced four of their own scorers in double figures, led by Ivey’s 20-point, six-rebound and six-assist showcase. That said, here’s a quarterly recap.

First quarter:

You might have needed an energy drink or two, but if you found the energy to brace yourself for the Blazers’ Summer League opener, you were rewarded within the first minute. After giving up a thunderous backdoor alley-oop jam at one end, the Blazers immediately returned with one of their own. No. 5 and No. 7 picks Jaden Ivey and Shaedon Sharpe commanded top billing, but it was Brandon Williams and Keon Johnson who first benefited from this complimentary publicity.

Williams wasted little time building on last year’s aggressive playstyle. Not that you’ll ever need that info, but last year against Detroit he led the Blazers to 49 free throws, the most in a game since March 13, 1999, and he delivered similar form here, along with smart rotations in defense and helps to get your strengths out of tough isolations.

Johnson, for the Blazers, was the star of the first quarter, hitting three of four for seven points. What is most inspiring is that he has produced in so many different ways. That Judgment vision was seen instantly; he had another smooth pass, which was only out of range. Maneuvering a pick and roll to get to its spot for an open shot? So did he.

Among other highlights, the game seemed to slow down for Sharpe as it progressed, highlighted by that slick bucket.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, though: The inability to defend the 3-point line and turnover proved costly for Portland as the Pistons were able to build a 10-point lead in the first quarter, with each of her starters added to her summer highlight reel. This led to an increase relatively early on.

Second quarter:

There’s probably no point in buying stock in Summer League lineup rotations, but for documentation purposes, Shaedon Sharpe, being on the bench for so long, felt remarkable. It could have just been a way to get him back in the flow early on, but as many times as ESPN showed him, it was impossible to ignore. (Casey Holdahl has offered Thismid-Q2, and a real update was given later).

On the court, the Blazers had some trouble closing that 10-point deficit, scoring just six points in the first seven minutes of the quarter. To the Blazers’ credit, the Pistons weren’t much better. Luckily, an interview with Damian Lillard was happening at the same time — even in July, he was finding ways to help the franchise — and it provided the distraction that was needed. They say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas… and that might include the tape from this neighborhood.

Last but not least, the Blazers stayed competitive and played hard and were ultimately rewarded for it. Trendon Watford, although the rotten troubles reared their heads again, pulled together a few plays and Johnson picked up where he left off and continued his argument as tonight’s best player. In year two, the game should slow down and lean on that some of his feeds, it certainly is. He stood out positively despite the 41:34 half-time deficit.

Third quarter:

For now, Sharpe’s smooth spinning midrange shot needs to be on loop; It was confirmed early on that a shoulder strain would sideline him for the remainder of the game. Anchored by their aggressive play, the Blazers remained competitive. Brandon Williams, in particular, commands a note. He was born in California and is based in Portland. But he made the free-throw line his third home to start.

It was around this time that one could not help but wonder if certain trends from last season would make immediate progress. For example: How would Trendon Watford differ from last year’s foul troubles and 3 point problems? He is always an impactful player and his box score shows it, but those questions kind of took center stage in the third quarter.

The Blazers found notable minutes from Luka Garza in their attempt to narrow the Pistons’ decade-long single-digit lead. Playing likely with extra juice against the team that cut him just a week ago, Garza showed flashes of that offensive juggernaut we saw in Iowa with deep post seals, a quick-triggering 3-point release and power in the paint . The Blazers delved deep into their rotation, making their biggest push with the likes of Colbey Ross — a versatile Pepperdine bucket getter — and Jabari Walker, the No. 57 Blazers of 2022.

Fourth Quarter:

Thinking long term, how about some highlights from the interview with Chauncey Billups to start the fourth? He praised Shaedon Sharpe’s “veteran pace” and “quiet competitiveness”. He opened up about his plan to build up Anfernee Simons’ defense, as well as his belief that Jerami Grant will win the Blazers “so many games.”

It’s somewhat fitting that the Grant trade was the issue at this point in the game: Portland and Detroit continued to help each other out quite a bit This evening as well as trading turnovers that prevented one team from gaining an advantage over the other. Walker was positive all the way, hitting a 26-foot pullup and a midrange pullup to reduce the deficit to two; it seemed his play had earned him a spot on Steve Hetzel’s late-game rotation.

On the stretch, play was a nip-and-tuck, with the trio of Watford, Johnson and Williams each getting key buckets and earning valuable late-game chops to keep the Blazers within a bucket. The latter two looked noticeably comfortable in isolations and pick-and-rolls.

A couple of wasted opportunities — like DiDi Louzada’s missed layup, an inability to contain Ivey, and failing to get the right look at an inbounds steal four seconds from time — effectively shut the door on the comeback attempt.

Next:

box score

The Blazers have a day off before their fight against the New Orleans Pelicans at 9:00 p.m. PT.