On the final day of Summer League in Las Vegas, the New York Knicks and Portland Trail Blazers faced off in the championship game in front of a crowded Thomas & Mack Center. Both teams entered the title game with a 3-1 record, but it was the Trail Blazers who came out on top, beating the Knicks 85-77. This was the second time the Blazers won a Summer League championship, the last one being in 2018.
Blazers forward Trendon Watford was named MVP for the championship game after finishing with 19 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists. Brandon Williams led Portland in scoring, finishing with 22 points and five assists, while Jabari Walker tacked on 14 points and 11 rebounds off the bench. The Knicks were led by Quentin Grimes, who put up 19 points, with Miles McBride adding on 17 points and six rebounds.
Here are three takeaways from the Summer League championship game.
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1. Watford takes over in the fourth
The Trail Blazers ended the third quarter with a 14-point lead, and appeared as though they would waltz away with the Las Vegas Summer League title. However, the Knicks went on a run to open the fourth and cut the lead to seven points before Portland called a timeout. New York’s trio of young stars in Grimes, Sims and McBride were starting to turn the tide in favor of the Knicks, and showed why this team has been so potent on offense throughout Summer League play.
But then Watford checked back into the game, and in the blink of an eye scored seven points, dished an assist and all of a sudden Portland’s lead was back up to 14 points again. That stretch in the fourth quarter saved the game for the Blazers, and is probably what won him Summer League MVP. It was the icing on top of what was already an impressive performance for the undrafted forward, who was getting it done on both ends of the floor. Watford was aggressive on defense, finishing the game with three steals and was key in holding the Knicks to below 100 points for the first time during Summer League play.
We saw flashes of Watford’s impressive play last season with the Blazers, and during this year’s Summer League he showed that he’s deserving of some reserve minutes for Portland next season.
2. Knicks fall short against Blazers’ tough defense again
Throughout Summer League play, the Knicks were one of the highest-scoring teams, averaging 95.3 points through four games, which ranked third. They scored over 100 points in three of their four contests heading into the title game, and ironically the lone game where they were held under 100 points was against the Trail Blazers on July 11. The result of that game ended up being nearly identical to how the championship bout played out, with Portland holding the Knicks to just 77 points again behind its stout defense.
All game long the Blazers were being disruptive on defense, and it resulted in forcing the Knicks into 18 turnovers. That’s been the theme for the Blazers throughout Summer League play, and you could see the players buying into it in the title game. Portland made life difficult for New York’s trio of scorers in Grimes, McBride and Jericho Sims, and while Grimes and McBride combined for 36 points, they weren’t terribly efficient. Grimes specifically struggled to get into rhythm as he shot just 31.3 percent from the field, and went a rough 2 of 11 from beyond the arc. He proved to be one of the best players in Summer League heading into the title game, but Portland forced him to take difficult shots and it resulted in an inefficient night for the young guard.
3. Blazers awarded first-ever championship rings
For the first time in league history, the NBA awarded the champions of Summer League with championship rings in addition to a trophy. The rings sport “2022 NBA Summer League Champions” atop them, with one side saying “Champions” and a picture of the Thomas & Mack Center, as well as “7.17.22”, representing the date the title was won. On the other side of the ring, “Las Vegas” is displayed prominently, with a picture of the Summer League trophy as well as the year 2022.
When the Trail Blazers were awarded their rings you could see the excitement from the players as they all rushed to pick up their hardware. It’s a nice touch for the league to award the winners of Summer League championship rings, and it’s likely a tradition that will continue going forward as it gives these young players a memento for their efforts.