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Etienne ignites Hawks to comeback win in second straight victory

Etienne hit five threes before hitting the game-winning layup

2022 Las Vegas Summer League - Atlanta Hawks v San Antonio Spurs Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks strung together their second straight victory in Summer League with a comeback victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday afternoon, 88-87.

Tyson Etienne led all scorers with 21 points off the bench, while Sharife Cooper — despite his shooting struggles — added 15 points. For the Spurs, Blake Wesley scored 20 points, Ky Bowman added 14 off the bench.

Really, this game was going nowhere for the Hawks for much of the second half. The Spurs took a double-digit lead before the end of the first half and, give or take a couple points in each direction, led by double digits for most of the second half. Other than Etienne hitting a few shots in the third quarter, the second half was really nothing to write about from a Hawks perspective, and even mid-way through the fourth quarter the Spurs looked in control as they had for most of the game.

That was until Tyson Etienne resumed his third quarter stretch, igniting in the fourth quarter to rip into the Spurs’ lead behind two three-pointers — and a long two with a foot on the line — for an 8-0 Hawks run, which became a 14-0 Hawks run as they took a four point lead.

The Spurs found a response and took the lead again with 26.4 seconds remaining through Malaki Branham, giving Hawks Summer League head coach Nick Van Exel a chance to work through some crunch-time action with his group,

With the hot-hand, the Hawks went to Etienne out of the subsequent timeout, and while the three was taken away from Etienne, he turned on the jets to blitz by the defender before making the tough layup, which would give the Hawks the lead again:

“It was drawn up for me to get downhill,” said Etienne postgame via Annie Finberg of the Hawks. “It wasn’t necessarily to get a layup, it was kind of for me to get a read. If they came from the corner, maybe kick to ‘Rese in the corner but if they didn’t stop me, going to rim to make a play, get fouled. They stayed out and I went to the rim.”

Encouraging to see the burst of pace here by Etienne, demonstrating there may be more to his game than shooting, which got the Hawks back into this game; a game they were nailed on to lose as things were heading at the time. The Hawks had a couple of other players chip in after Etienne’s 8-0 spurt but without Etienne going off I think it’s reasonable to say the Hawks probably don’t take victory on Thursday.

It would turn into the game-winning layup, with Etienne producing the defensive play to disrupt the final Spurs play to seal the victory for the Hawks. Etienne finished with 21 points (18 coming in the second half) on 8-of-15 shooting from the field and 5-of-9 from three.

“I think I just found myself,” said Etienne via Annie Finberg. “The first couple of games in the Summer League, trying to learn everything and apply everything and sometimes you get in your head too much and you start thinking things that (don’t) let yourself flow. I think when I came out here today I was much more in a flow and I think I allowed my skills to come out and my teammates did a great job getting me the basketball.”

Etienne hasn’t had the most spectacular Summer League up to this point but the high of this game is one that is very impressionable for Hawks fans.

For the Hawks themselves, this is a very welcome and encouraging game as Etienne is already signed to an Exhibit 10 deal with the Hawks and will have an opportunity to contest for a potential roster spot. I’m curious as to whether the Hawks will start Etienne for their final Summer League contest and if he can follow this performance up with another positive game, given that his first three games were so-and-so.

With Etienne going off in the second half, opportunities for Hawks second round selection Tyrese Martin were a little more limited in the second half but Martin continued his strong Summer League campaign with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting. It was good to see Martin get to the free throw line (shooting 3-of-4) in this spot, and I’m liking how Martin gets to his spots and carves space for himself on drives, or creates it (he had a nice crossover move in this game in the first half).

Even if Martin were to struggle shooting the ball in the Hawks’ final game of Summer League, he can still hold his head high with his strong Summer League showing and the Hawks can be encouraged from what Martin has shown them. He is one of a few bright spots for their Summer League outings.

Justin Tillman put up another solid game, scoring 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting, while Chaundee Brown Jr. (eight points on 4-of-9 shooting) and Joel Ayayi (seven points, 11 rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block) enjoyed solid games — Ayayi in particular having a very active game.

Obviously the struggles of Sharife Cooper have been well documented and while he played better than his first couple of outings, his struggles continued on Thursday. Cooper did score 15 points, hitting 2-of-4 of his threes and getting to the free throw line for 5-of-6 but shot 4-of-15 from the field and had some bad turnovers/passes.

It’s been unfortunate to watch Cooper struggle like this and potentially a great shame for his chances of making a guaranteed roster spot. He still might, and he could still be signed to a two-way but if he had excelled in Las Vegas it would’ve gone a long way for his chances of making the roster. Cooper still has an opportunity to finish strongly over the weekend and I think everyone is hoping that he performs to the level people know he can, because he has it in him, it just hasn’t worked out so far this year at Summer League.

Elsewhere, Chris Clemons struggled (1-of-8) and I think the Alpha Kaba era is probably finished after this summer too. We did see Anthony Duruji for the first time but he played only nine minutes and I’d like to see him more before the summer is out.

AJ Griffin, again, missed out with foot soreness, and Hawks head coach Nate McMillan provided some information on Griffin on ESPN’s broadcast.

Brad Rowland of the Dime UPROXX and the Locked on Hawks podcast provided a further information on the timeline of Griffin since draft night shortly after McMillan’s comments:

It’s been unfortunate not to see Griffin in action (we’ll see if he suits up for the finale) but understandable as to the Hawks’ caution. It’s just unfortunate.

Not that the result ultimately matters in Summer League but a good comeback victory for the Hawks and good for this group and the coaching staff to have a close game that came down to the final possessions.

The Hawks (2-2) will wrap up their Summer League adventure over the weekend, the schedule yet to be determined so it remains to be seen who the Hawks will face and when.

So, until then, until next time...