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Hawks come up short vs. Jazz in Summer League opener

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Atlanta Hawks v New York Knicks Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

For Summer League, the Atlanta Hawks built a roster full of young veteran players that ideally would help them start their play in Las Vegas on solid footing despite the absence of a single player drafted in the lottery. However, they started their opener with a decisive disadvantage considering that their opponent, the Utah Jazz, got three games of experience under their belt playing in the Utah Summer League earlier in the week,

Further, Atlanta played without their 2022 first-round pick, AJ Griffin, who missed the game due to foot discomfort. Their second round pick, Tyrese Martin, presumably got the start on the wing as his replacement.

After playing with a double-digit deficit for most the game, a veteran group closed the fourth quarter for Atlanta and narrowly missed getting the contest to a single-possession game on a couple of occasions. Utah came away with a 72-66 victory fighting off the late push from the Hawks.

The first quarter was all Jazz as the Hawks struggled to find any sort of rhythm, Summer League teams get but a few days of practice and organizing before taking the court for a game. It was evident that Utah carried some chemistry over from their play in Salt Lake City as they dominated the first few minutes on their way to an eight point lead at the end of the first quarter.

Atlanta would find their defensive footing in the second period while still struggling to generate any consistent offense and found themselves down by 13 points at the break. They eventually used a 22-11 margin in the fourth quarter to get to within some amount of reach but time ran out before the could draw any closer.

Overall, both teams were good on defense apart from early mistakes by Atlanta, who struggled in transition defense and in showing up on time and on target with help from the weak side in half court play. The Hawks were switching heavily and it took some time for their weak side defenders to get a feel for the pace as the Jazz attacked via the middle of the floor with regularity.

Jared Butler was Utah’s defensive star. The 40th overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft hounded Sharife Cooper relentlessly and held the Hawks starting point guard to just three points and two assists in 18 minutes of action. He also led all Jazz scorers with 15 points.

For Atlanta, Justin Tillman, who played in College Park last season, kept the offense from completely hitting a wall with impressive shot making in and around the rim. He finished with 12 points, converted six of his seven shot attempts, and three rebounds.

Joel Ayayi made an important impact on defense, especially in the fourth quarter and ended up individually +15 in the final frame as part of the squad that closed the game. He had but four points but contributed six rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a blocked shot.

Chaundee Brown, who will begin the season on a two-way contract, was a steadying presence. He led all Hawks scorers with 15 points and contributed with timely shot making in the final minutes of play.

Living up to his reputation, Martin was active defensively and demonstrated his ability to grab-and-go on a few occasions. It was an offensive struggle for him (five points, 1-9 on field goal attempts, 2-6 on free throw attempts), but he was able maintain his focus on the defensive end of the court.

Alpha Kaba started at center for Atlanta and managed eight points and six rebounds.

It was an ugly shooting performance on both sides as the teams combined to convert just 14 of 58 shots from the arc. The Hawks managed the edge in second chance points and fast break points. But Utah defended the paint more effectively with their superior size.

The Hawks were but 15-of-36 on shots in the paint where Utah converted 16-of-26. That modest edge plus going +4 at the free throw line but the Jazz over the top.

“I thought defensively we played pretty good,” said Hawks Summer League head coach Nick Van Exel. “We held them to 38% shooting. I’ll take that. But I think offensively we have to be better. We have to get more ball movement, more body movement.”

“A lot teams now in the NBA it’s switch, switch, switch,” he added. “You’ve got to create opportunities. Guys have to be able to beat their man off the dribble.”

Let’s take a look at some of the action.

Here is a look at Atlanta struggling to execute their “low man’ responsibilities:

Martin has the responsibility of “tagging the roller” but never shows up. Rookie mistake.

Here is a look at outright disorganization in transition defense:

An example of Ayayi’s impact can be seen here as he gets the steal and leads the break which ends in a bucket by Tillman:

Atlanta starts to pick up the defense:

James Akinjo, who was good defensively throughout the game, does a wonderful job containing the ball handler. Marcus Georges-Hunt contests the shot from behind.

Here Akinjo and Kaba connect on a nice side pick-and-roll:

Another beautiful delivery from Akinjo to Kaba:

Brown banks in a three to cut the Jazz lead:

Martin uses a nice dribble relocation to create space for his first and only three-point make:

One more nice Akinjo delivery:

From there, the Hawks couldn’t get it to a single-possession game and the Jazz got the victory.

Up Next

The Hawks will plan on Monday vs. the New Orleans Pelicans. Tip is scheduled for 6:00 pm ET.