Jeff Teague’s Clinic in South Beach

Hawks 98, Heat 92

No one really appreciates the Atlanta Hawks. They say they do. They rave about the Hawks unselfish offense where it seems everyone touches the ball. They compliment Paul Millsap at 6-9 and tough as nails, expanding his game to perimeter shooting and being the leader of the team. They admire Al Horford who will be the quietest max player in the league next summer. Kyle Korver has a beautiful shooting stroke and a pretty automatic shot. And Jeff Teague is the Hawks best player who no one pays attenton to because the NBA is point guard dominant and Teague flies under the radar.

But the Hawks are no one’s example of a fluke. They lost DeMarre Carroll, replaced him with young Kent Bazemore and are still doing Hawk-like things. On offense, they are zipping the ball around the perimeter faster than defenders can catch up, draining the open three or cutting to the rim. On defense they are crisp in their rotations, recovering back to their man, in perfect communication. They look exactly like the team that had the best record in the Eastern Conference last year. They rebound the ball. They score the ball. They move the ball.

The main cog in this show is the undervalued Jeff Teague, an Indianapolis product who is in his seventh year and averaging a career high 18 points a game. His assists are down but it doesn’t really matter because everyone on the Hawks passes the ball. They look to Teague to control the tempo when the game is close or in jeopardy.

No such luck was needed in Miami. The Hawks showed the Heat exactly what a complete team looks like even if the stats told a different story. The Heat attempted four more shots than the Hawks. The Heat made two less three point shots. They had two fewer rebounds. They had 8 more blocks. They both had 10 steals. So why were the Heat playing uphill? Why was the Hawks biggest lead 15 and the Heat’s biggest lead 4?

This is why. The Hawks had 25 assists and the Heat has 13. The ball movement and motion offense of the Hawks is the reason they are a favorite to get to the Eastern Conference Finals. They got every shot they wanted. They all didn’t go in but they were there for the taking.

Point guard play matters and Teague completely manhandled Goran Dragic, going around him whenever he felt like it to get to the rim. Teague’s 18 shot attempts forced Dragic- who didn’t have a bad offensive game, he had 19 points- to expend energy on defense, not a particularly strong suit of his.

In November, the Heat resemble an unfinished product, not the team they may be in February. Hassan Whiteside was dominant. Chris Bosh rebounded but he and Whiteside have yet to play well together on the offensive end. It is still hard to determine who is the best Heat player: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or Hassan Whiteside.

No such questions exist for the Hawks. Jeff Teague is their best player. No one talks about him though. No one says how good he really is. Until the All-Star game selections and Teague starts for the East.

photo via llananba