The Atlanta Hawks picked up a late victory over the Miami Heat in their fourth Summer League game on Sunday afternoon, triumphing 94-90.
Skylar Mays scored a game-high 26 points while rookie Jalen Johnson added 25 points, his personal best in Las Vegas in addition to Mays’ personal-best with those 26 points.
The Hawks were without standout rookie Sharife Cooper, who was ruled out due to health and safety protocols, while Max Heidegger and Jordan Bell were also absent for Sunday afternoon’s contest. The status of all three ahead of Monday’s contest is remains unclear.
Despite Cooper’s absence, Johnson continued to excel but in Cooper’s absence, Mays enjoyed a more central role as a scorer and facilitator. Mays scored 26 points on 7-of-17 shooting from the field, 2-of-6 from three, 10-of-10 from the free throw line to go along nine assists.
What was probably most impressive about Mays’ performance was, in particular, how he excelled in transition and at the rim, pushing the ball hard coast-to-coast on more than one occasion and finishing in fine style.
This might be Mays’ highlight play, pushing coast-to-coast and finishing with the reverse layup as he’s falling to the floor, plus the foul:
All of this pic.twitter.com/UQF6D1xdJP— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) August 14, 2021
Not quite coast-to-coast, but in his own half, Mays picks up the drive and gets all the way to rim for the finish:
On the inbounds, Mays is unchallenged as he crosses mid-court and gets downhill towards the rim — with help from the screen from Admiral Schofield — where he, again, is able to finish despite tumbling to the floor:
“It does take a lot of practise,” said Mays when asked about his finishing at the rim despite being knocked down. “Working on my finishes and being fearless at the rim, going in there with the trees and trying to make close-range shots. That’s something I take pride in, it’s a big part of my game and something I think I’m pretty good at.”
Mays also added that he sets drills for himself where he adds different types pf spin on the ball off of the backboard, to practise those tough finishes that he produced yesterday in a game.
“I spend time on that too,” said Mays in response to a follow-up question about the added ‘English’ Mays puts on his layups. “I have little drills where I spend two minutes just doing different finishes, putting English on the ball — two minutes on the timer and just spin the ball off the backboard in different ways. That’s something I’ve always had, little wrinkle in my workouts. It definitely has paid off and I like how the crowd reacts to it when I make a couple of them.”
Mays was able to get to the rim almost at will, as he does so on this possession plus the nifty reverse finish, plus the foul:
COUNT IT! pic.twitter.com/WSY9kcUtdA— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) August 14, 2021
Mays also used this ability to put pressure on the rim in transition to the benefit of his teammates on this possession as he attacks the paint in transition and finds DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell for the three-pointer:
Mays helped the Hawks reel off a 13-2 run to finish the game and take the momentum away from a Heat side that seemed as though had made this game their own. The only rough moment for Mays was his face as he took a tough fall on his face towards the end of the game.
“I’ll be alright,” said Mays postgame. “I’m tough, man. Just trying to find ways to get wins and I know the guys need me out there. I’m glad we got a win, that’s the most important thing. I’ll be alright.”
Of Mays’ 26 points, 11 of those came in the second quarter and 16 in the first half. Hawks Summer League head coach Matt Hill enjoyed Mays’ aggressiveness on Sunday.
“I like his aggression,” said Hill of Mays. “Just his demeanour out there, he had a little edge to him tonight. I thought that was great. They went on a little run and we responded, he responded by being aggressive, getting downhill and finding people. I thought that was his best game.”
“He was great tonight,” added Johnson of Mays. “He was so fun to watch, he just made everything easy. He controlled the pace of the game, controlled the tempo and started off the game with a lot of energy defensively. I think that set the tone for us, made us follow his lead for sure.”
Mays didn’t quite make the impact many would have been expecting him to make in his first Summer League game against the Celtics — given how Mays played some real NBA minutes last season for the Hawks — but ever since then he has been impressive and his performances have shown optimism for his future with the Hawks going forward as he looks to push on in his career.
“It’s great,” said Mays of his Las Vegas showing ahead of the upcoming season. “I put a lot of work in and it’s just good to see I can go out there and get game reps and compete. That’s what I’m all about.”
Johnson enjoyed another great performance as his 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting helped the Hawks enormously. Johnson has been great for the duration of Summer League, arguably at his best on Sunday afternoon.
To get the day started, Johnson produced this block as the help defender, skying high at the apex of the arc to turn this shot away:
Jalen got UP for the pic.twitter.com/I1ZBxU6714— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) August 14, 2021
“I started off the game trying to bring a lot of intensity,” said Johnson postgame.
On the offensive end, just as he has all throughout Vegas Summer League, Johnson has scored his points in a variety of ways.
Here, a face-up jumper from Johnson early in the game:
On a great drive by Akoon-Purcell, Johnson is waiting in the corner and dispatches the three:
For the more spectacular, Mays steals the ball having just made a basket himself and lobs to find Johnson for the alley-oop:
That's how we feeling⁉️ pic.twitter.com/k1iCIFTtKU— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) August 14, 2021
Johnson, like Mays, also excelled in transition.
After a decent contest from Johnson himself, he advances up the court. The Hawks gather the rebound and Mays’ quick outlet finds Johnson far up the court for the easy transition points (with a decent finish to boot):
Off of a Heat turnover, the Hawks push in transition and Johnson is found, where he drives to the rim and draws the foul and free throws:
While not for a basket for himself on this next possession, it’s a great drive from Johnson in semi-transition to get towards the baseline and find the cutting Akoon-Purcell for the layup at the rim:
“Very contagious,” said Hill of Johnson’s energy. “When he plays with a motor and plays with energy and effort, he gets a lot done on both ends of the floor. We ended up switching late in the game and he was able to guard the perimeter guys like Strus. When he’s running, when he’s making plays in the open floor, he can get a lot done.”
“I think it’s just instincts,” said Johnson postgame. “I think I have really good instincts, especially in transition. My dad always preached making that extra pass, so I credit some of that to him but some of it is instinct for sure.”
Many have praised Johnson’s performances in Vegas — and for good reason — and there’s a lot of excitement when it comes to Johnson’s future both outside and inside the club.
“He’s just so good,” said Mays of Johnson. “A special, special talent. He’s only 19 I think, so to be where he’s at, to have the maturity in his game along with that athleticism, he’s going to be so good.”
Even in this short time in Vegas, the growth shown from Johnson has been clear to see from the coaching staff.
“Jalen’s grown,” said Hill of Johnson. “It’s good to be in these types of situations early, even if it’s Summer League. All of this is great experience. Playing in close games and different situations we’ve been in, I think it’s been beneficial to him and Sharife. He’s grown a lot though. His communication is been getting better every game, his coverages are improving every game. It’s a lot being thrown at him for a three day training camp but I think you’ve seen a bit of improvement game-to-game, especially on the defensive end.”
One thing I’d still like to see — that Hill said after the Pacers game — is Johnson running some pick-and-roll action before Summer League is out. This would have been a great spot to run some of that action with Cooper out but it just didn’t materialize. Perhaps on Monday...
Not that Johnson needs to showcase that aspect of play to call his Summer League a success: scoring has come so easily to him at times in Summer League and he has been hugely impressive in this week of action.
Elsewhere, DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell has impressed throughout Vegas Summer League, maintaining a bit of a lower profile compared to the likes of Cooper, Johnson and Mays due to the fact the others are either new draft selections or returning members like Mays. But none of that takes away from Akoon-Purcell’s work this summer, which has been very impressive — another 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the field, including the big three-pointer that gave the Hawks the lead once again.
Purcell may not have a place on this Hawks roster but certainly deserves a training camp invite somewhere in the NBA, if it’s not in Atlanta.
The Hawks (2-2 on Summer League) wrap up their Vegas adventure on Monday when they face-off against the New York Knicks at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.
Until next time...