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Johnson, Cooper continue to deliver in buzzer-beater victory over Pacers

Sharife Cooper delivered the buzzer-beater to seal victory on Tuesday night.

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Atlanta Hawks v Indiana Pacers Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks continued their Summer League adventure on Tuesday against the Indiana Pacers, emerging as 84-83 victors.

Sharife Cooper led the Hawks with 21 points, including the buzzer-beating three to go along with nine assists. Jalen Johnson added another double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

It was another good outing for the Hawks’ two draft night selections and where better to start than with Cooper this time, the man of the moment — 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field, 5-of-8 from three to go with nine assists.

Cooper’s drives were a little less in volume against the Pacers than the Celtics but his three-point shooting certainly took an upswing in fortune after attempting just one three on Sunday.

Here’s a look at two of them that came from the third quarter where Cooper hit three threes in a short amount of time.

Here’s the other three Cooper hit in the third quarter, an open catch-and-shoot three:

It’s a fairly clean looking release, even if it’s not the quickest release in the world.

His fourth three comes from the pass from Johnson and Cooper hits on the catch-and-shoot three:

Let’s have a look at the game-winning three... It was a bit of a broken play coming out of the timeout with Mays missing the three-pointer, Johnson contesting on the rebound, the collection from Max Heiddeger to Cooper in the corner:

“We just wanted to get a good shot,” said Hawks Summer League head coach Matt Hill of the final play. “We were trying to get Sharife on the run, downhill to the basket but the second option was Skylar coming out of the corner. I thought Skylar got a good look. We told them coming out of the timeout to crash the glass, if you crash you might have someone on the perimeter. Max made a great play and (Sharife) made a big time shot. I thought the execution late was pretty good.”

Credit to Johnson for creating the opportunity as he fights for the offensive rebound and credit to Heidegger — who is not shy shooting the ball — for the unselfish pass to Cooper in the corner. Credit to Cooper too for ensuring his feet were behind the line when he took the shot and, of course, making the shot in front of the Pacers’ bench with something to say too.

“It was kind of broken a little bit,” said Cooper of the final play. “I was supposed to get it downhill, Jalen was supposed to get it in the middle, I was supposed to go left or right and try get something downhill but it didn’t work. The backup was to bring up Sky off of the DHO, so he came off, he missed and after that it was a scramble. Once I saw Max get it, I ran to the corner and, God willing, the three went in.”

“What was going through my head? I knew it was going in,” added Johnson of the final play. “I just saw how the play unfolded. Had all five guys crashing the glass and then we got a hand on it, tipped out to Max and then Max found ‘Rife in the corner. The play unfolded perfectly how he planned it in case we didn’t get the first look we were looking for. It was a great shot and I’d expect nothing less from ‘Rife.”

The way Johnson finished that answer, when he said ‘He’d expect nothing less from Cooper’ sounded exactly like John Collins would say — heck, probably did say at some point in the past — about Trae Young making a shot like that, but we’ll touch more on this later.

Cooper’s confidence shooting the ball only grew throughout the game, and I think it started with this jumper early in the game, as he rejects the screen and the opportunity for an open jumper opens up to him and he connects:

“I liked his confidence today,” said Matt Hill of Cooper. “He was more aggressive, I think he did a good job of getting off of the ball at times and getting others involved in the game. But his confidence to shoot when he’s open should always be there. He should be that type of player. He has the ability to make open shots. It starts in Summer League and I hope it carries over but I just thought his overall aggression and playmaking today was huge. He made some big, timely shots.”

Cooper’s scoring and shooting will of course draw the headlines but his passing also continues to impress as he picked up nine assists.

Here on the pick-and-roll, Cooper slips a nice pass to the cutter with his left-hand for the assist at the rim:

Cooper’s new relationship on the court with Johnson only seems to be going from strength-to-strength, the pair linking up on multiple occasions last night.

Off of a Pacers turnover, Johnson picks up possession before giving it ahead to Cooper, who has the presence of mind of knowing not only where Johnson was but also the shot-blocker, and Cooper finds Johnson for the layup:

“That play exactly, I think it’s little stuff like that, just giving him an easy layup where I could’ve took one for myself, I feel that builds my teammate’s confidence,” said Cooper of the play. “As a point guard I feel like that’s my job, to make everybody feel good about themselves.”

In transition, Cooper finds the streaking Johnson behind the defense for the alley-oop finish:

“Sharife’s got the ability to break people down and get into the paint as you’ve seen the first two games,” said Matt Hill of Cooper. “He’s fast. Trae can play off the ball, Sharife can play off the ball. Sharife’s done a little of that in Summer League. I think his ability to playmake for others makes him a special player. When you have two guys out there, I don’t look at too much at their size. It’s such a spread game that sometimes you need your best players on the court. I think Sharife has the ability to break people down and get others involved.”

Cooper and Johnson are developing an early connection that sounds very similar to the connection Young and Collins also once had at Summer League and have continued to build in their three years together. The way the two talk about each other feels very reminiscent of the way Collins and Young have spoken about each other on countless occasions.

“‘Rife trusts me, that’s a natural connection we have,” said Johnson of Cooper. “Just him trusting me to push the brakes sometimes, when he feels like we need to get into a set he’ll call for the ball. But usually he’ll let me push the ball and start the break.”

“I’d say it’s just a natural connection,” added Johnson of his connection with Cooper. “Of us knowing each other’s games pretty well, seeing each other play, playing against each other. Considering we both playmake, that’s what makes it much easier for that trust factor. He’s one of the best playmakers I’ve ever played with, just having that trust for him to let me run the break too is very good.”

Cooper played a fantastic game and will, rightly, take the plaudits for his performance. It is Summer League and it’s very early, but Cooper is possibly showing that many GM’s made a mistake passing on him.

While that’s a conversation for further down the road — with a larger sample-size — Cooper isn’t taking this opportunity for granted.

“This ain’t just Summer League for me,” said Cooper. “A game where I put on a jersey and represent something way bigger than me in the Hawks, this crowd and it’s everybody here — it’s something I don’t take lightly. Playing in games like this, I look forward to it, I can’t sleep at night, this is stuff I look forward to for so long. Now that it’s here, it’s like a dream come true.”

Let’s move on to Johnson.

Johnson may not have been the the lead star last night but he played another really solid game and continues to impress — 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field.

Right from the off, Johnson drives, spins and hits the turnaround jumper on the baseline:

Johnson also got to showcase some of his athleticism in transition finishing with the authoritative dunk:

On the inbounds, Johnson takes advantage of the attempted reach and drives to the rim, finishing with the dunk:

Johnson also showed finesse, finishing with the reverse layup on this drive from the perimeter:

On the feed from Cooper, Johnson takes the ball with momentum from the three-point line and draws the foul and free throws:

Not on the offensive end or something that led to a direct basket but Johnson also took a charge in the fourth quarter, seeing the drive come and steps up to take the contact:

Postgame, coach Hill praised Johnson’s offensive versatility, whilst adding that the Hawks want to utilize Johnson in pick-and-roll scenarios as the ball-handler.

“He’s a unique player,” said Hill of Johnson. “He’s good in the open court, he can make reads from the post and elbow/iso situations, he can get behind the defense as a screener and he has the ability to stretch. I think his variety and versatility gives you a lot of options offensively. What we haven’t seen a lot is him handling in pick-and-roll — which I hope to see as the week goes on — but he has the ability to do that too. His patience is something we’re going to continue to preach with him and making the right reads and playing under control.”

Seeing Johnson operate the pick-and-roll would be an interesting prospect and it’s something you may as well roll with in Summer League because how many chances will he get to do so in his rookie season on a playoff team? Now is a great time to see what’s what.

In the meantime, Johnson feels he is adjusting well to Summer League and keen to continue learning how he can improve.

“I feel like I’m adjusting pretty good, I’m still learning,” said Johnson. “I’m going to get better as each game goes on. Learning from my coaches, them giving me feedback. I feel like I’m adjusting well.”

It’s worth stressing these are early days in these players’ careers but Johnson, like Cooper, is also showing early signs that he may have also slipped too far in the draft but, again — another really solid performance from Johnson.

Elsewhere on the roster, Skylar Mays’ showing in the Hawks’ second Summer League game was certainly more impactful than Sunday’s Boston game — 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 from three. Mays made a big impact to begin the second quarter (after a quiet first quarter) as the Hawks built a double-digit lead and Mays was the driving force behind that. It was encouraging to see him be a bit more assertive and aggressive offensively.

Another Hawk that put together another solid game was DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, who scored 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field. He won’t make the headlines like Cooper or Johnson but his performances have been noteworthy so far nevertheless.

The Hawks (1-1 in Summer League) are back in action on Thursday against the Philadelphia 76ers at the later time of 9 p.m. ET.

Until next time...