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Trail Blazers face the New York Knicks on July 17, 2022. Bruce Ely / Trail Blazers

Watford Wins MVP, Leads Blazers To Second Summer League Championship

The Portland Trail Blazers are once again the kings of Las Vegas.

Despite once again finding themselves trailing at the end of the first quarter, the Portland Trail Blazers pulled away thereafter to secure an 85-77 victory versus the New York Knicks to win the 2022 Las Vegas Summer League championship Sunday afternoon at Thomas & Mack Arena on the campus of UNLV.

“Our staff did a great job preparing them, getting them ready,” said Steve Hetzel, who served as head coach for Portland’s summer league team. “They were committed from Day One. They wanted to win this thing, so they came here with a mission and executed. I’m proud of them.”

With the win, the Trail Blazers improved to 4-1 in summer league play. Portland has now won two Las Vegas Summer League championships after taking home the title in 2018.

Both teams started Sunday’s championship, which tipped off a noon, a bit ragged, with neither team scoring for the first two minutes. But Portland, a team that bested the Knicks 88-77 in their third game in Las Vegas, got the worst of it with eight turnovers while shooting just 3-of-12 from the field, resulting in a 14-12 deficit at the end of the first quarter.

However, the Trail Blazers took control of the game early in the second quarter, with Colbey Ross, Craig Randall and Jabari Walker all converting three-pointers in a 9-0 run to give Portland a 21-14 lead with 7:50 to play in the first half.

Portland would never trail again.

The Trail Blazers would outscore the Knicks 29-16 in the second quarter to take an 11-point lead into the intermission. An 8-0 run midway through the third quarter gave the Trail Blazers their largest lead of the game at 49-37, though they’d head into the fourth leading by 14.

New York would use an 8-0 run of their own to get Portland’s lead down to seven with just over seven minutes to play. But Trendon Watford, who was named MVP of the championship game by unanimous vote, was re-inserted into the game and scored seven points in a 9-2 run that pushed Portland’s lead back to double digits.

“They made a run late third, early fourth and we stuck together,” said Watford. “When we came back in we turned it up and I’m just proud of all these guys.”

Behind Watford and Brandon Williams, who went 8-of-8 from the free throw line in the fourth, the Blazers were able to comfortably finish out the game to secure their second summer league championship and the rings that now come with it.

Williams led Portland with 22 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and 10-of-10 shooting from the line to go with five assists, three rebounds and a steal in 22 minutes.

Watford went 7-of-15 from the field and 3-of-6 from three to finish with 19 points, seven rebounds, three steals and an assist in 27 minutes.

Jabari Walker, selected by the Blazers with the 57th pick of the 2022 Draft, finished up a wildly successful run in Las Vegas with 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field and 2-of-5 shooting from three, 11 rebounds, three steals, two blocks and two assists in 27 minutes.

“This just shows how much work we put in over the summer, shows we have a good, young core right now,” said Walker. “We can bring some help to the vets.”

In five games in Las Vegas, the rookie out of Colorado averaged 12.4 points on 63 percent shooting from the field, 43 percent shooting from three and 80 percent shooting from the line, 9.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals in 22.0 minutes.

“I keep preaching this: I’m happy to be here, I’m not satisfied,” said Walker. “I don’t believe I should have went 57th, I keep preaching that. I just feel like I’m slept on and I just want to go out there the prove that. I’ve got a chip on my shoulder.”

Keon Johnson scored just two points but also tallied three rebounds and three steals while finishing a +10 in a team-high 31 minutes. Kyle Alexander added eight points, four rebounds, an assist and a steal in 16 minutes. Luka Garza contributed six points, three rebounds and a block.

The Knicks had five players who finished in double figures, led by 19 points from Quentin Grimes.

The Trail Blazers will now go their separate ways, with some returning to Portland in a few months for training camp while the others will be on the hunt for their next opportunity. But whatever comes next, they’ll always be a 2022 Las Vegas Summer League champion.