Cade vs. Jalen: A glimpse into the future
The top 2 draft picks of the 2021 NBA draft squared off Tuesday evening, in one of the most highly anticipated summer league matchups in recent memory with nothing more at stake than clout and validation. In just their second game of summer league action, Detroit’s Cade Cunningham and Houston’s Jalen Green were thrust into the spotlight and all eyes from every corner of the NBA community were on them.
Green, selected #2 overall to Houston has had some thoughts about not being selected 1st overall as Detroit went with Cunningham instead. “I believe that I am the best player in this draft class and was worthy of the Number 1 pick. Detroit obviously felt differently and that’s okay. I have to go out there and prove otherwise” Green said. These words and the obvious race to see which top pick will transform their respective franchise the quickest only added to the clear excitement and tension in the air. Cunningham didn’t have much to say on the topic, “I’m not out here to prove I deserved the number 1 pick. I want my teammates to know that I am all about winning first and foremost”.
The 1st quarter played fairly slow for both Cunningham and Green. Cunningham, just as he did in Detroit’s 1st summer league game, came out and hit his first attempt from beyond the arc while Green committed three turnovers early. Cade clearly heard the noise this week as he was applying constant pressure to Green, making sure his presence was known on both ends of the floor. He forced 2 more turnovers including a beautiful steal, dime and dish finished off by 2nd-year star, Saddiq Bey. Green did not let the early-game woes get to his head though. The 6’6’’, 180 lb shooting guard stayed aggressive and made his way to the free-throw line as a reward. At the end of one, Detroit held a slim 28-24 advantage while the two stars continued to battle.
With the 2nd quarter came much more action, specifically from Green. He showed tremendous athleticism and elevation on his 3 ball, draining his first attempt in the face of two Detroit defenders. He showed the same attributes on a tough finish off of a beautifully ran give and go as well. Cunningham’s value truly showed on the defensive side of the ball, as his energy and tenacity led to more Houston mistakes. Detroit continued to pressure Green in hopes of forcing more mental errors however, Green did not cave. The battle continued with Cade pulling off a couple of beautiful moves for buckets including a dribble behind his back that seemed to take Green’s ankles a bit as he gathered and drained another smooth jumper from beyond the arc. The first half ended rather uneventfully as Cunningham missed his next 3 attempts and Green finished the half of the bench. Jalen Green finished with 9 points on 2-4 shooting while Cade Cunningham shot 4-10 and finished with 10 points and Houston held a 54-43 lead.
The 2nd half saw some more of the same that we saw in the 1st. Each Green and Cunningham showed off their superb athleticism with Green getting well above the rim for a fastbreak slam and Cunningham with a beautiful finish of his own off of yet another spin move that left his defender in the dust. Again, Cade continued to apply relentless pressure to Green on the defensive side of the ball and it definitely seemed to rattle Green, causing two more turnovers. Green continued to stay aggressive and get to the line, where he finished 10/11 for the game. The Rockets began to pull away, causing a few turnovers of their own that led to a couple of beautifully executed transition buckets. Another Green step-back 3 and Houston had built a 16-point lead. Cunningham scored or assisted on 4 straight possessions to end the quarter, but Houston held a 12-point lead heading into the 4th. Green and Cunningham each finished the quarter with 17 points with Green having the better shooting night efficiency-wise. At this point, Green was 4-6 from the field including 2-2 from 3 and 7-7 from the charity stripe.
Detroit began to battle back, powered by their defense. Cunningham looked extremely comfortable running the fast break and out in transition, making the right play seemingly every time in those situations. A beautiful block on Green and dime to fellow rookie Luka Garza cut the Houston lead to 7 with 7 minutes remaining. As much as Detroit tried to battle back and steal one from Houston, the Rockets’ incredibly efficient outside shooting, poetic ball movement, and team basketball were too much for the Pistons summer squad. As a team, they shot over 43 percent from 3 and got big nights from Josh Christopher, KJ Martin, and 16th overall pick, Alpernen Sengun as well as Green. Houston eventually walked away with the 111-91 victory.
If you just look at the stat sheet and scoreboard, you could say that Jalen Green was the slight “winner” of the 1st matchup between his Rockets and Cunningham’s Pistons. Green finished the contest with 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists on 6-11 shooting overall and 10-11 from the FT line in the win. Cunningham finished with 20 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists on 8-18 shooting including 4-9 from 3-point land. If you are being super critical, you could say that although his efficiency was great, Green looked super uncomfortable at times when Detroit, and specifically Cade Cunningham, stepped up their on-ball pressure. You could say that although his shot selection was suspect, Cade looked like a bonafide floor general and leader already. Among these things, one is abundantly clear, these 2 young and exciting stars are here to stay and were certainly worthy of the top 2 picks in this year’s draft.