talon gc 7/23

The in-game avatars of Atlanta Hawks Talon Gaming Club's six players wait for play to resume during a timeout in game two of their series against Utah Jazz Gaming on July 23, 2020. (Photo courtesy of the "NBA 2K" League)

Atlanta Hawks Talon GC exploded into the league-wide “NBA 2K” THE TURN tournament with a record-breaking 98-33 victory against Cleveland Wednesday night. The team's momentum carried over to the second half of the series, which finished Thursday morning due to technical issues, as Talon GC secured the sweep and booked its ticket into the 16-team, single-elimination bracket. 

“The competition in this league is elite, and we are now preparing for a quick turnaround with an important series later this evening against Jazz Gaming,” Talon head coach Wesley Acuff said after the morning game. 

Fresh off its first series win since July 7, Talon had to beat Utah to get in on the tournament’s $260,000 purse. Acuff and his six man squad had less than five hours to prepare for the Thursday night showdown.

Play-in power

To stir up competition, the league allowed each team to ban certain archetypes  the preset character builds “NBA 2K” athletes can use in the game. In game one against Cavs Legion GC, Talon eliminated two point guard archetypes and limited Cleveland to its season-low offensive showing. Legion's guards combined for eight points off 2-of-16 shooting while its center accounted for 54% of the team’s points.

Meanwhile, Legion banned the “Offensive Threat” shooting guard archetype, forcing Acuff to look elsewhere for a secondary shooter. He found a replacement.

Andrew “MrStylez” Valle, who averaged 3.9 points through the first nine weeks of the season stole the spotlight to score 35. Rather than his usual role posting up for shots in the corner, Acuff said Valle employed a more active but defensive-focused archetype that put the ball in his hands more often. 

"[Valle] was just everywhere all over the court [with] a lot of active steals and fast breaks and dunks," Acuff said.

Atlanta’s season-long scoring leader Michael “Bp” Diaz-Cruz put up 32 points of his own with a franchise-record 20 assists to boot. Shooting guard Mykel "Kel" Wilson and power forward Derrion “Arkele” Elmore scored 15 and 12 respectively, and center Levi “Lee” Lamb, usually an offensive force, focused on rebounding to secure another franchise-record 24 off the virtual glass. 

Technical problems caused the teams to restart more than once during the blowout and ultimately pushed the second game to Thursday, which Acuff said contributed to the lopsided victory. 

"I feel like the game plan that we played, we were going to get that win," Acuff said. "But I do want to definitely give a shout out to the Cavs because their sportsmanship was on another level. [I have] nothing but nothing but respect for that ball club."

Although Cleveland put up more of a fight in game two, Talon again kept its turnovers low and its shot attempts high to win 71-57 and set up its series against Jazz Gaming.  

First-round flop

The last time Atlanta and Utah faced off on June 30, Talon stole the first game before taking two 20-point defeats. On Thursday night, Jazz Gaming took the clean sweep.

Talon was up early in game one, taking a tentative 32-28 into the break. But despite Atlanta's banning the “Scoring Machine” point guard archetype, the Jazz’s back court rained 3-pointers in the second half. The team missed once from deep in the final 12 minutes with 24 of its 41 second-half points coming from behind the arc. 

Atlanta did the opposite, shooting 1-of-10 from deep in the third and fourth quarters after a 6-of-10 first half. While the teams were even on turnovers, and Utah took only one more attempt in the contest, Talon shot 50% from the field to Jazz Gaming's 66% to lose 69-51.

Diaz-Cruz and Lamb led offensively with 19 and 16 points respectively, and while Valle didn’t repeat his scoring avalanche from the day before, Wilson’s seven points weren’t enough to bridge the gap.

In game two, Acuff looked to relight the fireworks from Wednesday night and engage Valle alongside Diaz-Cruz on offense. But a slow start became a sluggish performance, and Talon never came within reach of the lead. 

It looked like a watered-down version of Wednesday as Diaz-Cruz shot 33% on 3-pointers and picked up nine of the team’s 13 turnovers. Lamb put up 20 points and seven rebounds, Wilson scored 11 and Elmore failed to get points on the board. Valle shot flawlessly  he was 7-of-7, including 4-of-4 from deep  but saw 12 fewer shot attempts than in his 35-point breakout. 

Talon went down 90-58 to give Utah, which shot 69% from the field including 73% from deep, the 2-0 sweep.

For the second time this season, Atlanta missed out on the cash bonuses available from in-season tournaments. The silver lining for Acuff is that his secondary players showed they have the ability to compete. 

Now it’s about finding the right combination of archetypes and strategy as the team heads into its final four series of the 2020 season.

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