LAS VEGAS — All-Rookie playmaker Trey Burke was dealing with an upper respiratory infection Friday, so Dante Exum got a chance to start in his preferred point guard position for the first time in a Utah Jazz uniform.
Exum and the Jazz will have fonder memories of the way the game ended for the No. 5 pick of the 2014 NBA draft.
The 19-year-old wrapped up the Jazz’s NBA Summer League by stealing a pass in the final second and helping Utah eke out a 75-73 win over Portland at the Thomas & Mack Center.
That defensive play came moments after Exum drove and lofted in a nice floater as Utah tried to hold onto a late lead, which seemed unlikely after the Jazz began the game missing 19 of their first 20 shots.
“We wanted to see him finish on a strong note,” Jazz coach Brad Jones said. “I thought he tried to play through and hit that little floater to seal the game for us.”
Exum ended his first week of NBA action with another rough shooting night, hitting just three of 11 shots. But the 6-foot-6 guard made his mark on the Jazz’s Vegas finale, finishing with nine points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Malcolm Thomas, who has a non-guaranteed contract for next season, had another solid game at power forward, scoring a game-high 16 points to help the Jazz finish 3-2.
Center Rudy Gobert added 11 points with 15 rebounds and three blocked shots, former Weber State guard Nick Covington chipped in 12 points and Ian Clark scored 10.
Despite Exum’s misses and four turnovers, the Jazz offense clearly ran smoother when he was on the court. Case in point, Utah outscored Portland by 17 points during his 29 minutes on the court. No other player on either team had a plus/minus rating higher than plus-eight (Thomas).
“I thought at times he really tried to fight through. It’s been a big couple of weeks for him. He’s had a lot going on,” said Jones, who was charged with coaching Utah’s summer squad. “He’s had some ups and downs through this, but that’s also why we play Summer League — for him to go through the ups and downs and the little challenge.”
Friday gave Exum and the Jazz one last challenge.
Not only was Burke sitting on the bench unable to play, but Utah only scored four points in a first quarter that included a dreadful 5.3 percent shooting performance from the team.
The Jazz missed their first shot of the second quarter before hitting four in a row. Utah then went on a scoring spurt, hitting four shots in a row en route to somehow taking a 29-25 halftime lead.
Exum, who'd mostly played off the ball in the backcourt with Burke in the first four games, put the Jazz up 55-46 with a sweet scooping layup at the third-quarter buzzer. His other field goal was a breakaway dunk, but he missed all four 3-point shots to end his five-game summer stint 3-for-18 from beyond the arc.
Overall, the young athlete only hit 12 of 41 (29.3 percent) from the floor.
“I came in the game and was just rushing the shots. I had a couple of wide open (looks). Instead of getting my feet set and taking the shot, I was just thinking about the end result,” Exum said. “It’s just about getting used to it and being able to knock down open shots. It’s just talking about the pace and playing with pace and learning how to control the tempo of the game. I’m starting to adjust to that.”
Shooting and stamina are two major areas of emphasis the highly touted Australian will have to focus on while with his national team the rest of the summer leading up to Jazz training camp in October.
“Now he can go back (to Australia) and regroup a little bit. Hopefully, now he has a level of understanding of what he has to do every day to be successful,” Jones said. “There were some times he showed some brilliant, brilliant things this last week. But then there have been some times he’s been kicked in the rear end a little bit."
That showed up in stats important to point guards. Over the week, Exum dished out 14 assists but made 15 turnovers against a higher level of opposition than he's used to playing against.
“Hopefully,” Jones added, “he’ll take this and process it and come back in the fall ready to go and help us, because we think he’s got a bright future.”