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Trail Blazers come back to beat Rockets 85-77

Do you miss your JGup now?

2022 NBA Summer League - Portland Trail Blazers v Houston Rockets
Not his best outing of the summer.
Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

It started off so well. The Rockets began the game playing with a fevered intensity. Jabari Smith, Tari Eason and TyTy Washington showing just how dominant they could be. The Rockets were playing great defense, turning the Trailblazers over, and scoring in transition off passes that Josh Christopher absolutely would not have made in this Summer League. Things were looking good. It seemed the draftees were unleashed to play some beautiful basketball.

The first quarter ended 28-14 and the Rockets looked as though they might possibly compete for the VSL Champion Las Vegas Pinky Ring of Dominance With Extra Cubic Zirconium Ringz. Alas, it was not to be.

Portland switched to a zone, and the VSL Rockets Big 3 went out for a rest. Things seemingly fell apart, in slow motion, and never recovered, for three quarters, from that point.

The formerly lackadaisical Blazers turned up the pressure. The formerly crisp and confident Rockets started rushing shots, and had to play half-court defense seemingly full-time.

Then, when all seemed lost, it happened. Daishen Nix decided to take over. That was pretty much it for the Rockets, unfortunately.

We learned the difference between a Daishen Nix drive to the rim in traffic, and a Josh Christopher drive to the rim in traffic. JGup has the ability to finish that play, rather than hunt for fouls, leading to missed free throws, or pass out from under the rim (much as in game 1 this VSL).

The Rockets took an absolute ton of rushed, ill-advised, desperate, or selfish threes, seeking to get back into this game. They finished 7-38 from range. You aren’t going to win many games that way.

I still like Nix, he’s still a young player, and there’s something there. I’m not sure he’s an NBA player, but he could be one. Josh Christopher IS an NBA player. It’s just a question of how far he can take it. If he’d played, the Rockets might well have won this one.

As it was, the Rockets lack of experience showed, and they never regained the confidence of the first quarter.

I’ll run through the players.

Jabari Smith - still good on defense, and shot well from inside 3pt range. He seemed to hurry everything from 3, and his pretty form suffered. It seems the increased range, along with added responsibilities proved a problem for him. Shots were rushed, and flat. Not getting sped up in the moment is one of the hardest things to learn as a pro. Smith did show flashes of incisive passing, a better handle, and a preternatural defensive awareness. My worry level about him is unchanged - that is to say, extremely low.

Even a “bad game” in this context was 19pts, 10rbs, 2ast, 1blk, on 7-13 shooting, which looks great, at 7-8, minus his 0-5 3pt night.

TyTy is highly variable. When he’s playing with good flow, he’s a clever player, with a great sense of when to pass (mostly) and when to shoot (occasionally). When he’s pressing, he’s a turnover waiting to happen.

As is Daishen Nix. Nix is poised between potentially being a very good backup point/combo guard, and not being in the NBA. He’s not good enough to be the fulcrum, but with a very athletic second unit, he might be truly useful. 4-11 shooting, and 5-10FTs won’t get it done in the NBA. Those stats aren’t as painful as watching Nix attack the basket without much of a plan, over and over.

Tari Eason also had a rougher outing than his stats might suggest. He scored 17pts, with 7rbs, 1st, 3stls, 1 blk on 7 for 19 shooting. The problem is, the good stuff in this game seemed heavily front loaded. The bad stuff happened as the game was getting away, and Tari was pressing. One thing in his favor, his effort never slackens.

The most positive take away is that Smith and Eason still compiled some good numbers in a game that clearly wasn’t their best showing. The second most positive takeaway is, this is a very young team, and it was missing the player that had been the cornerstone for the first three games, in Josh Christopher.

Tonight it was easy to see how JGup’s speed, force, and finishing ability propelled the Rockets through some difficult patches in the past couple of games. Five missed threes in a row has that effect. The difference between a rookie, or GLeaguer, and a 2nd year NBA player was evident.

Of the Portland players, every one of them, barring Jabari Walker, has at least a year of experience as a pro, and it showed, in their comeback. Learning to stay focussed, to take a game, is something every player has to do.

The only Rockets playing today with any pro experience were Daishen Nix and Anthony Lamb. With that context, the Rockets performance, with a team of “R” players looks perhaps a bit better, and easier to understand. Portland brought an effort that, while perhaps lower than Houston in the first quarter, was sustained throughout the rest of the game. That is something the Rockets must, and I believe, will, learn.

My confidence regarding the VSL crew of likely future Rockets is, if anything, higher.


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