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Summer League Celtics beat Hawks 85-83 through mixed performances

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Yam Madar and Juhann Begarin flashed potential, while the Celtics’ veterans failed to create the separation typical for NBA rotation players in these exhibitions.

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Romeo Langford got bumped off his path on the way to the basket on a first-half botched finish. Aaron Nesmith clanked an open pull-up three off the back of the rim amid an 0-for-3 start. Payton Pritchard, still proficient as a catch-and-shooter, did not flash the creative abilities the Boston Celtics hope he will develop this summer.

Langford did hit a trio of catch-and-shoot threes and appeared solid in his mechanics shooting from the wing, including on a final breakout make from the right corner following a transition pass from Pritchard. The shot gave Boston’s summer squad an 85-83 win in their first game in Las Vegas against the Atlanta Hawks.

They won, it’s early, and the Celtics have four more games in Vegas. But Sunday’s opener against the Hawks did not feature inspiring performances from Langford, Pritchard, Nesmith and Carsen Edwards—all of whom now have NBA Playoffs experience under their belts. Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper, Atlanta’s first and second-round picks from the draft just two weeks ago, showcased more than any of the Summer Celtics’ core players who will be relied on as rotation bench players in Boston this season.

Nesmith finished 5-for-14 through work inside the arc. He went 1-for-8 from outside. Langford shot 4-for-9 with 12 points, four assists, and four turnovers. Pritchard hit 7-for-18 from three and 0-for-3 inside the arc, scoring 23 points with five assists and no turnovers.

Edwards largely got where he wanted to go, scoring 17 points on 6-for-17 shooting, with eight rebounds and six assists carrying much of Boston’s ball-handling duties. The Celtics started the game 3-for-14 from three and finished 31.4% on 51 tries outside, setting a tone for an inefficient game of jump shooting.

Sam Hauser, Boston’s new two-way player, hit 2-for-7 and struggled to move laterally on the defensive end of the floor. Yam Madar and Juhann Begarin—players who are not yet rostered for the regular season—entered the game with lower relative expectations as they faced NBA competition for the first time, and showed admirable sparks.

Madar got deep into the paint, defended with energy, and hit an impressive spinning shot from the elbow as part of a 4-for-6 Celtics debut with eight points, two rebounds and two assists with one turnover. Begarin splashed a pair of corner three-pointers in the second quarter, missing two more threes and two-pointers in 15 minutes. Defensively, he got moved physically inside by two separate Hawks dribble drives.

Johnson, the No. 20 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft by Atlanta, got to the rim with relative ease as part of a 8-for-12 debut with 20 points and 10 rebounds. His physicality as a young wing prospect with skills to hold down the four stood out. Cooper, who Boston passed on at No. 45 for Begarin and got picked shortly after at 48 to Atlanta, checked in with a flurry of six assists late in the first half. He scored 11 points on 5-for-11 shooting with six turnovers in a mixed performance.

Pritchard recovered admirably to close the game out with a pair of spot-up threes from the top of the arc. Langford turned the ball over in the fourth to allow a Skylar Mays breakout, but in limited time on the ball flashed some strong vision even on plays that didn’t end in baskets, like catching a pass on the wing behind an Aric Holman screen and quickly finding Holman after he slipped to the basket into a foul.

Still, Boston’s core young players being on the floor late wasn’t just because the game stayed tight within one-possession down to the final seconds. The Celtics individually created no separation within their individual games either.

“We all (struggled to shoot),” Edwards told NBATV after. “At the same time we all trying to get in the flow, get in a rhythm, we were just trying to focus on stops. Even though we weren’t making shots, we said let’s get some stops and try to get going.”