Jeff Teague shines in Atlanta’s big win.
by Tracy Weissenberg
The Hawks had come off a loss Friday against the Bulls, managing to score only 26 points in the second half, one above their season low. The offensive inconsistencies and scoring droughts that plagued the team this season seemed to magnify with each defeat, as the Hawks returned to Philips Arena hoping to end a four-game losing streak.
The Hawks put only 11 points on the board with less than two minutes left in the first quarter, making it seem doubtful the scoring woes would subside. Jeff Teague, who started the game in the backcourt with Kirk Hinrich, re-entered with the Hawks down 12-11.
The Blazers went on a quick 6-0 run to push the lead to seven as Philips Arena deflated with the prospect of another slow start and early deficit. Joe Johnson hit a jumper to bring Atlanta within five before the Hawks would get a jolt from an unlikely hero.
In the last 12 seconds of the quarter, Teague notched three straight steals that led to free throws (he made one of two), a dunk and a three pointer. Teague’s own 6-0 run to answer Portland put the Hawks up one at the end of the first. While they only scored 19 in the quarter, the shift in momentum was substantial.
Those 12 seconds at the end of the first recharged the atmosphere and changed the intensity of the entire game. More importantly, that span could mark the turning point in Teague’s young career.
Hawks coach Larry Drew said, “When I made this decision [to start Teague], I really just thought his energy would be something that we need at this point because we’ve been kind of flatlined the last four games and we just needed something to rejuvenate us a little bit.”
Drew said although Teague played sporadically this season, he had never lost confidence in the second-year point guard. “I’m hoping that this will be kind of a springboard for him because it’s been kind of an up and down season for him…He can make shots, he’s got speed, he’s got quickness, he can go from end to end. Defensively, he can be a nuisance. I’ve never stopped believing in him. It was just a matter of when he was gonna get that big opportunity again.”
“Earlier today [Drew] just came to me and said he’s gonna give me another opportunity, said just go out there and play,” said Teague, “He was like we have nothing to lose, you know see what you can do. He gave me an opportunity and I think we played well as a team.”
On the Hawks’ run at the end of the first quarter, Teague said, “I think that picked us up. They had made a little run right there and then we came back and answered with our own run, so that was big.”
Teague said that when the Hawks played the Lakers Tuesday, Drew told him to pay attention to the game of five-time champion Derek Fisher. “He was like watch how he picks up full court; he said that’s what I want you to do,” said Teague, “I told him next time I get on the floor that I would do that and he gave me the opportunity tonight.”
Teague finished the game tying a career high with 24 points and setting one with five steals. He played a game-high 44 minutes as the Hawks snapped a 4-game skid with a 91-82 win against a gritty Blazers squad.
“He was absolutely sensational from start to finish on both ends of the floor. Defensively, he did a great job in just picking the ball up, harassing the ball…his speed and his quickness is just something that we don’t have,” said Drew.
As important as making plays is the ability to change momentum. “Our shots weren’t falling lately, so getting some easy runouts and things like that helped,” said Teague.
Asked about the challenge for Teague to stay ready mentally despite fluctuating minutes, Drew said, “It’s important that he keeps believing in himself because I’ll never lose the belief in him. I’m committed to him…I don’t want him hesitating; I want him being vocal out there which I saw tonight, which shocked me. I saw him out there clapping and had both fists in the air and that was a welcome sight.”
Regarding his demeanor on the floor, Teague said, “Every time I get on the court, I feel like I play with a little fire in me. I’m a laid back person, I got a laid back personality but when I get on the court, I think everybody plays with emotion and a chip on their shoulder.”
“I mean I think I’m vocal,” Teague said with a smile after being told his coach noticed an increase in on-court communication, “I mean, I probably don’t do it as often as he would like…I guess I started it now, I can’t turn back now.”
Joe Johnson can relate to his teammate’s situation as a young guard trying to define his role. “I was once in a position Jeff is kind of in right now. You know back my first or second year in the league, you know my minutes were sporadic. Whenever I got a chance to play, I always produced or tried to do my best anyway. Once Phoenix made the trade, to trade away Penny and Steph, then I just kind of blossomed. I look at Jeff the same way. He’s got unbelievable talent, speed; I mean he’s explosive, so he has all the tools, man. His confidence is the only thing left,” he said.
“When [Drew] pulled me in today, I know it was another opportunity,” said Teague, “Smoove and those guys told me, ‘just play your game, play your game.’ I went out there and I played my game.”