ATLANTA – Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew said there were a lot of reasons why he was happy to have Dahntay Jones on his team.
When he was held out of a game or others times when he has played sparingly — six times since arriving from Dallas in a trade for Anthony Morrow on Feb. 21, Jones has played between two and seven minutes — he has not pouted, even though he has struggled with it.
Drew said he has found Jones engaging in the locker room and trying his hardest to get up to speed on the team’s offensive and defensive systems. Most of all, though, Drew and general manager Danny Ferry said Jones’ acquisition has helped to fill a big void in the role of a perimeter defender — a role that thrust Jones into the center of a high-profile controversy late last week with one of the league’s biggest stars.
“Dahntay, he’s a terrific defender,” Drew said. “Not that they won’t score on him but he’s going to make them work for it.”
Said the 6-foot-6 Jones: “That’s been my whole career. I’ve been guarding one (point guard) through four (power forward). I’ve embraced it, had fun with it, try and meet the challenge. I enjoy new challenges so it just is what it is.”
The controversy came in a much needed 94-92 Hawks’ win over the Los Angeles Lakers last Wednesday — a game in which the Hawks entered having lost six of seven and three straight but which sparked a three-game winning streak entering Monday’s game with the Mavericks, Jones’ former team. In the final seconds, Jones provided the defense on Kobe Bryant that forced a miss and sealed the Hawks’ victory.
Bryant took to Twitter after the game to accuse Jones of a dangerous play, of stepping into him while he was in the air after his fade-away jump shot while taking away the area where Bryant could land safely. The officials did not call a foul on the play but the league later issued a statement saying that the officials should have blown the whistle.
Bryant badly sprained his ankle when he landed and has been furious about the play, saying, “I can’t get my mind past the fact that I’ve got to wait a year to get revenge.”
Jones, a nine-year veteran, preferred to keep the focus on the Hawks, who were poised to fall behind Boston into seventh in the Eastern Conference standings on Monday. Only a three-game lead separates them from eighth-place Milwaukee and a possible first-round playoff match-up with defending NBA champion Miami.
“That was an unfortunate situation where they tried to take the attention off a great Hawks win,” Jones said on Monday, “and one play is not indicative of how hard my teammates played. We did a great job of getting a win and we had fun and we dug out a great win for the Atlanta Hawks fans.”
Jones said that playing his former team on Monday held no special meaning for him and that it was “just another game on the schedule.” Playing for the second time in two nights, the Hawks had a rough go of it in a 127-113 loss at Philips Arena, as Dallas made 13 of 22 three-pointers (59.1 percent). Jones made 3 of 4 shots in 12 minutes, finishing with seven points, and finished minus-6, sixth among the 11 players who played on Monday.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle described the type of defender that Jones is and how he gets under his opponents’ skin.
“I like Dahntay a lot,” he said. “He’s been able to get some minutes here. I know he had a very good game here last night (in a win over Brooklyn) and I’m sure he’ll be antagonizing the (crap) out of me during the game, which I’ll look forward to.”
Carlisle observed that Jones was a helpful player for the Mavericks, as he started 17 games, filling in as they were beset by injuries.
“Look, he’s an experienced player that’s made a niche for himself because of his toughness, because he can do some things very well,” Carlisle said. “He brings a certain kind of energy that helps a team.”
Carlisle was asked his thoughts on the controversial play involving Jones and Bryant last week but punted on the topic, saying he didn’t see it and so he didn’t want to comment. Nonetheless, he said he was aware that it had created a lot of “chatter.”
When the chatter sought Jones out the next day and the media spotlight bore its full glare, Jones did not shy away, taking to two national media outlets to address the situation.
It was the smart play. Jones played in college at one of the nation’s top academic schools in Duke, where he majored in public policy studies with a markets and management studies certificate. He has said if he were not playing in the NBA, he would have worked as an investment banker.
“I got requests and I took requests as I should have,” he said of his handling of the situations. “I wasn’t running from the situation. I was proud of the defensive effort I put out on the floor. I was never trying to be malicious and I just wanted to make sure people knew that wasn’t the case.”
He added: “You shouldn’t run from something that you weren’t doing to cause any malice, so I just explained the situation — what I was thinking at that point in time.”
With the Hawks poised for a sixth straight postseason appearance, defense will be at a premium and the Hawks, who, perhaps, have lacked in defense and toughness in the recent past, will look more to Jones, who had played at least 19 minutes in three of the team’s previous four games until Monday. Drew said he knows the process has been slow, which is why he appreciates how Jones has dealt with it.
“I’m trying to take it in stride,” Jones said. “It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve encountered as a professional. Right now, I’m trying to learn plays and unlearn plays and trying to work things out on the run, haven’t had any practice time, trying to learn guys and trying not to think as much as I’m learning and playing at the same time.
“It’s passed over right now. I feel like I’m more comfortable on the court and I’m more adjusted right now so I’m having fun.”