The Portland Trail Blazers rookie’s left shoulder injury prematurely ended the competition between No. 5 pick Jaden Ivey and No. 7 pick Shaedon Sharpe. But those who watched the late-night 81-78 defeat to the Detroit Pistons were rewarded with an exciting game thanks to a highlight-filled 20-point outburst by Keon Johnson and a close game from start to its end.
Moreover, with 15 points, four rebounds, and four assists, Brandon Williams continued where he left off in 2021–2022, and No. 57 choice Jabari Walker joined him in double figures with 11 points on five-of-five shooting. However, the Pistons’ four players who scored in double figures, led by Ivey’s 20 points, six rebounds, and six assists, upended those efforts. Having said that, here is a quarterly review.
The Blazers answered with their own alley-oop jam right away after giving up a resounding backdoor jam on one end. Jaden Ivey and Shaedon Sharpe, the No. 5 and No. 7 picks, received the most attention, but Brandon Williams and Keon Johnson were the first to benefit from the free publicity.
Williams didn’t take long to improve upon his aggressive playing approach from the previous season. Not that you’ll ever need to know, but against Detroit last year, he guided the Blazers to 49 free throws, which was tied for their highest in a game since Mar. 13, 1999. He had a similar form here, and his clever defensive rotations helped free up his big men from difficult isolations.
Johnson led the Blazers in scoring in the opening quarter with seven points on three-of-four shooting. The fact that he produced in so many diverse ways is what inspires the most. He immediately demonstrated his court vision by having another effortless pass that was just beyond of reach. Using a pick-and-roll maneuver to get to his position for a clear shot.
Purchasing stock in Summer League lineup rotations probably has no use, but Shaedon Sharpe’s extended bench time was notable. It might have just been a tactic to help him get back into the game quickly, but given how frequently ESPN showed him, it was difficult to ignore. (Casey Holdahl did mention this, midway through the second quarter; a more thorough update followed.)
The Blazers struggled to close that 10-point gap on the court, scoring just six points in the first seven minutes of the quarter. To their credit, the Blazers weren’t much better than the Pistons. Fortunately, a Damian Lillard interview took place at the same time since it served as a much-needed diversion. Even in July, he still found ways to support the team.
At the very least, the Blazers continued to play hard and competitively, and they ultimately received recognition for it in the final minutes. Johnson continued to establish himself as the night’s top player while Trendon Watford, despite the foul problems that once again surfaced, put several plays together. The game should be slowing down in Year Two, and judging by some of his feeds, it most definitely is. Despite the 41-34 deficit at halftime, he stood out as a positive.
Sharpe’s fluid, spinning-pivot midrange shot will currently have to be on loop due to an early diagnosis of a shoulder issue that kept him out for the duration of the game. The Blazers’ aggressive style helped them to maintain their competitiveness. In particular, Brandon Williams commands a note. He plays in Portland and was born in California. However, he started off by making his first three free throws.
One couldn’t help but worry if some patterns from the previous season would make any immediate progress at this point. For instance, how would Trendon Watford adjust after having difficulties with fouls and 3-pointers the previous season? His box score proves that he is consistently a valuable player, but those queries kind of stuck out in the third quarter.
The Blazers used Luka Garza extensively in an effort to reduce the Pistons’ 10-year single-digit lead. Garza likely had added motivation to play against the team that had just released him a week before. He displayed signs of the offensive powerhouse while he was at Iowa, including deep post seals, rapid 3-point releases, and power on the paint. Colbey Ross, a dynamic bucket-getter from Pepperdine, and the Blazers’ No. 57 choice in 2022 Jabari Walker were among the players the Blazers used to make their best push.
How about some highlights from Chauncey Billups’ interview to begin the fourth because we’re considering the long term? Shaedon Sharpe’s “experienced pace” and “calm competitiveness,” he praised. He discussed his strategy for developing Anfernee Simons’ defensive toughness and his conviction that Jerami Grant will help the Blazers “win so many games.”
The Grant trade came up at this time in the game, which is kind of ironic because Portland and Detroit proceeded to aid one another quite a bit tonight as well by swapping mistakes that prevented one side from gaining an advantage over the other. It appeared that Walker’s performance won him a spot in Steve Hetzel’s late-game rotation after he made a 26-footer and a midrange pull-up to trim the lead to two.
The last minutes of the game were tight, and the trio of Watford, Johnson, and Williams each scored crucial baskets to help the Blazers maintain a one-point lead. The latter two appeared visibly at ease in pick-and-rolls and isolations.
DiDi Louzada’s missed layup, Ivey’s inability to be stopped, and a failure to get the ideal look on an inbounds steal with four seconds left were among of the squandered opportunities that effectively ended the comeback attempt.