home 2014-15, Blogs, Game Coverage Curtain Closed: Teague Composes Hawks To Instrumental Win Over Wizards

Curtain Closed: Teague Composes Hawks To Instrumental Win Over Wizards

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(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)


“Kill the head, and the body will die.”

In three Hawk wins over the Wizards during the regular season, Jeff Teague averaged 21 points, seven assists, and attempted eight free throw attempts per game. Beyond the numbers, he controlled tempo and pace, and orchestrated the offense that was Atlanta’s multi-instrumental symphony. So coming into this Eastern Conference Semifinal Series, containing Jeff Teague was key.

And through three playoff games, Teague had been more than contained. He had been thrown off the stage with his conducting baton stuck through his heart. He was 12-41 shooting (29%), shooting 12.5% from 3, averaging 13 points, seven assists, and attempting five free throw attempts per game. He had been played virtually even by NBA journeyman and Wizards backup Ramon Sessions, and he had made one more three point attempt than you, or me, or former Wizard star and current Hawks troll Gilbert Arenas.

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He had produced only one significant, memorable play in this entire series:

Still, Wizards fans, and more importantly, the Wizards organization, knew that Teague was the key to Atlanta’s offense and their most dangerous weapon. That knowledge, combined with his hard foul on Beal, made Jeff Teague DC public enemy #1.

But on this night, Teague would wield his baton aggressively, and the Wizards were forced to face the music.

The 1st quarter set the tone for the game: The Hawks generally controlling the action, but the Wizards fighting and finding ways to hang around. The Wizards defense started out shaky, and had Wittman stating after the game that although the effort was there, mentally the defensive execution simply was not. The result was an early layup line for the Hawks. 16 of the Hawks’ first 19 points came in the paint, with Teague and Paul Millsap leading the way. By halftime, the Hawks had 32 points in the paint, and another eight from the free throw line, on their way to 65 points before intermission.

Yet the Wizards stayed within 10, scoring 55 points of their own. Paul Pierce started the game like, well, Paul Pierce. He hit three early 3’s to get things rolling (four in the half), and Beal hit three of his own to keep things rolling.

As a team, the Wizards shot a deafening 67% from 3, hitting 10 of their 15 three-point attempts. Nene added a few emphatic dunks, and Will Bynum provided an unexpected spark, with six points off the bench, including back to back driving lay-ups late in the half that kept the game close and forced an Atlanta timeout.

The Wizards opened the 3rd quarter throwing the first punch, connecting with a 9-0 run to open the quarter, capped by a Bradley Beal three that had the Verizon Center crowd exploding out of their seats and waving their free towels like their playoff lives depended on it. But Atlanta responded. Teague got a layup to end the run, and the Hawks pushed their lead back to double digits.

The Wizards struck again. Drew Gooden elevated like he was still at Kansas for an emphatic block on Teague, and Pierce knocked down another three to cut the lead back to six, starting yet another Truth induced frenzy in DC during this playoff run. But Atlanta responded again, and at the end of 3, the Hawks still had an 85-75 lead.

And that’s when The Kid went to work. That’s when Bradley Beal turned in some next level sh#@. 13 fourth quarter points. Six of 10 shots. Bursts of speed that made you look twice to make sure that was #3, and not #2. And hustle and effort being exerted that made you believe that he was going to single handedly steal this game. His entire performance could be captured in one play: A moment near the seven minute mark, when he sprinted for a steal, dribbled through multiple defenders, and fought up a difficult finish in traffic.

But again, there was Teague. He answered Beal’s tremendous play with a basket of his own. Then he drove the lane and got rejected by Bynum, and rejected again, only to steal the outlet pass and finish the possession with a bucket and a foul. And once more, with the Wizards having cut the lead to four, Teague hit a three to give the Hawks a 104-97 lead with just 1:15 to go. Game over.

Only it wasn’t. The Wizards again made one last valiant push, with Wittman drawing up back to back to back sensational out of bounds plays, the last resulting in an open three point look for Paul Pierce to tie the game on the final possession.

This time, it bounced away. Game over. Draw curtain.

The Wizards didn’t fail for lack of trying. There were a lot of positives, Beal above all. He finished the game with a playoff career high 34 points. He shot 4-8 from the three point line, and hit 8-of-9 free throws. He had a team high seven assists, and added six rebounds, three steals, and a block. Playing against a team with four All-Stars, Beal was the best player on the court. Pierce added 22, hitting 5-7 from 3, but he needed six. Sessions was solid again, with 13 points and five assists, and Bynum was fantastic, adding 10 points in just 14 minutes.

But the Wizards failed to kill the head of the Hawks. Jeff Teague finally found his game in this series, and we can only hope it’s not a lasting discovery. After three sub-par games, Teague finished game four with 26 points, eight assists, seven free throw attempts, and multiple big buckets. And as Teague came to life, so too did his teammates. After appearing off key all series, Paul Millsap scored 19 points. And Al Horford, who hadn’t been able to find his range all post-season, hit midrange jumper after midrange jumper to the tune of 18 points to go with 10 boards. For the first time this series, and really this playoffs, the Hawks offense finally flowed like the offense that led them to 60 wins. The Wizards took away the three point line, and held Kyle Korver to just four shot attempts, but the Hawks were smart enough not to force the issue, and take advantage of the open driving lanes Korver’s presence alone provided. Paul Millsap called it “the best game we’ve played all series” and referenced the Hawks 30 team assists. If the Hawks have in fact found their rhythm, this series just got a lot more difficult, and John Wall’s absence becomes even more difficult to overcome.

Jeff Teague has his baton back. John Wall still can’t hold his. But the show must go on.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Atlanta. The curtain rises at 8. Let’s hope it ends on a high note.

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