Duke in the NBA: Gary Trent Jr. relied upon in the end to seal Blazers’ win

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 14: Head coach Mike Krzyzewski hugs Gary Trent Jr.
DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 14: Head coach Mike Krzyzewski hugs Gary Trent Jr. /

The Portland Trail Blazers benefited from Gary Trent Jr.’s unselfish play on Monday and advanced to the final of the NBA Summer League.

Smart coaches seek players who recognize that team success ultimately matters more than individual stats. That attribute surely played a major role in Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s recruitment of Gary Trent Jr. And it’s something the Portland Trail Blazers must have noticed about the former Blue Devil’s mentality when they decided to offer him a contract before the end of the Summer League.

Despite not lighting up the scoreboard during his team’s 97-92 semifinal win against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night, Trent Jr. made a multitude of smart decisions and created a couple of highlight-worthy moments.

Less than two minutes into the second quarter, he stole a pass, took off to the other end of the court, and finished with an uncontested dunk. After that play, ESPN2 commentator Chauncey Billups, a former teammate of Gary Trent Sr., said, “[Trent Jr.] is going to end up having a very good pro career.”

In the last minute of the game, Billups made it clear that his comments were based on his observations of Trent Jr. dating back almost two decades to when his friendship with Trent Sr. began. “I’ve known Gary Trent Jr. since he was in a car seat,” Billups added.

During another Blazers possession in the first half, play-by-play announcer Mark Jones emphatically praised Trent Jr. for “spinning like a DJ” as he made a move to get past a defender in the lane. Although he missed a shot off the glass on that play, he did not respond by hanging his head.

Instead, he just kept making one smart play after another without concerning himself with what the stat sheet would show at the end of the game. What the final stat sheet did show, though, is that when Trent Jr. was on the floor, the team benefited. While he was in the game, the Blazers outscored the Grizzlies by five points; that just so happened to be his team’s exact margin of victory.

Trent Jr. did not start the game, but his coaches trusted him enough to put him in for the final minutes of the fourth quarter to help put the finishing touches on the win. And his two free throws in the final minutes helped his squad hold onto its lead. He ended with six points, two rebounds, an assist, a steal, a block, and, once again, zero turnovers.

With the win, the Blazers advanced to their second-consecutive final of the NBA Summer League. They will face the Los Angeles Lakers at 10 p.m. ET in a rematch from last year’s title game. If the Blazers want to reverse the outcome from last year, though, they might again need to call upon the former Dukie with a team-first focus.

Next: Trent Jr. Offers Helping Hand