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Hawks top Spurs in spirited Las Vegas finale

2019 Las Vegas Summer League - Day 8 - Atlanta Hawks v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

LAS VEGAS — Expectations were not high heading into the Atlanta Hawks Summer League finale against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday evening. Both teams were playing it conservatively during their last evening in Las Vegas and sat multiple players likely to be relevant to their respective upcoming NBA seasons.

The Hawks were without De’Andre Hunter (4th overall pick), Bruno Fernando (34th overall pick) and Jordan Sibert (42 games with Hawks’ G League affiliate last year). That’s in additon to Cam Reddish (10th overall pick) having missed all of Summer League play.

On the Spurs side, Lonnie Walker IV (18th overall pick last season), Luka Samanic (19th overall pick), Keldon Johnson (29th overall pick) and Quinndary Weatherspoon (49th overall pick) each sat out the game.

In fact, the only previously drafted player that appeared in the contest was Thomas Robinson, the former No. 5 pick in the 2012 NBA draft. With that said, the competition exceeded expectations with both teams fighting hard for the victory.

Atlanta took control early on the backs of offensive contributions from Jaylen Adams (10 points, one assist) and Charlie Brown, Jr (10 points). The Hawks were running sets early in the first quarter to get Brown going as a scorer. As the Spurs defense shifted it’s focus to the rookie wing, it opened up opportunities for Adams, who knocked down shots after struggling to do so in each of his previous three games.

The Hawks took a robust 22-point lead into the half after getting some additional offensive production from Sedrick Barefield (12 points) in the second quarter. Barefield was playing in just his second Summer League game and, as a late addition to the roster, he went a bit under the radar in terms of noteworthy prospects playing for Atlanta. It will be interesting to see if the organization shows interest going forward, even through the prism of College Park, as Barefield was the highest usage player on one of the 25 best offensive teams in the country last season.

The Hawks used 10 steals in the first half to create a 15-3 edge in forced turnovers to generate more shooting possessions than the Spurs. They were +9 in field goal attempts and +7 in free throw attempts.

San Antonio came into the second half with a defensive adjustment. They deployed a zone-based scheme in an effort to force the ball into the hands of Atlanta’s secondary creators. The Spurs rode the effectiveness of their defense to a 24-10 scoring margin in the third quarter.

The game got increasingly physical as the second half played out snd Hawks’ head coach Greg Foster seemed unwilling to play long stretches without Nick Ward on the floor. At 6’9 and 245 pounds, Ward offered the strongest resistance to the Spurs big lineups. He ended up with 16 points, 13 rebounds (7 offensive rebounds) and three blocks. His willingness to play physically landed him 10 shots at the free throw line of which he converted eight. He also made an impact defensively and amassed three blocked shots.

“He was great tonight,” said Foster regarding the play of the former Michigan State big man. “He played a lot of minutes during this thing. I’m really happy with the way he finished off.”

Matt Mooney was a critical contributor in the second half as Foster deployed him specifically because of his ability to knock down perimeter shots against the Spurs defensive zone. He scored 17 points off of the bench on 6 of 12 shooting from the floor including connecting on three of his five shots from beyond the three point line.

“They played a zone against us and you’ve got to get a shooter in there,” said Foster when asked about the play of Mooney. “I wish I would have gotten him in there earlier and left him out there because he made some shots. Against a zone, you need your shooters on the floor.”

From a distance, this may have seemed like a completely inconsequential game, but when one sits through a full week (or more) of summer league contests, it becomes clear that irrespective of which players represent which teams, the characteristics of a given NBA organization are visible. Some teams allow their players to jog back on defense and some don’t. Some teams expect their players to share the ball and some don’t. Some teams expect their players to work hard in help defense and some don’t.

In that light, there is perhaps some encouragement to take in how hard this Hawks team fought to secure an otherwise meaningless victory. They withstood the adversity of an offensively challenging third period. When the Spurs elevated their physicality, Atlanta matched it. When it felt like their control on the game was slipping away, the Hawks steadied themselves. It was a hard-fought win.

“It’s one of those games, it’s the last game of a long couple of weeks out here and you really don’t know what you are going to get,” said Foster of his team’s victory. “You know guys are tired. You know guys are banged up. But that was probably the thing I was most impressed about was their energy coming out early. And they sustained it. I think the zone affected us, obviously it affected us. But I thought they were great.”

“I thought the energy of this team was here all week,” continued Foster. “I think the second game we struggled. It was the back-to-back. For our young guys it was their first game. But, for the most part, my only goal was that they play hard and whenever anyone would talk about them that they were the hardest playing team here. And I believe they were.”

Looking Ahead

It’s unclear what to make of the most of the players that played many of the minutes in Las Vegas this year. Hunter, Reddish and Fernando will enter the season with roster spots. Within less than a week, the Hawks will have to decide whether or not they will guarantee the contract of Jaylen Adams for the entirety of the 2019-2020 NBA season. It seems a bit on the unlikely side at this point except that the Hawks still don’t have another natural point guard on the roster.

As for the rest of the players, the Hawks are likely to fill the second of their two available two-way contracts (Charlie Brown Jr holds one of those spots) before too long. Might it be a player that played with them the past week? Only time will tell.

And, for the others, there is a G League draft in the coming months and the effort needed to complete the remainder of the team which will play its first season in College Park. One or more of these players could being playing their later this year.

All in all, the Hawks survived Summer League avoiding major injury while securing a couple of victories. Not a bad outcome.