On a day where Lou Williams made his triumphant return to the floor and head coach Mike Budenholzer threw everyone a curveball by changing up his starting lineup just before tip-off, Hawks point guard Jeff Teague stole the show in a mighty way. Teague had the best statistical game of his career, scoring a career-best 33 points and notching 10 assists for yet another double-double, and in the process, he led the Hawks to a 113-103 victory over Philadelphia.
Teague’s breakout campaign was in full swing well before he set foot on the court in Atlanta on Friday night, but this was an exclamation point. The 25-year-old point guard needed only 16 field goal attempts (he converted 10 of them) to notch his 33 points, as he continued his new penchant for getting to the line with 13 free throw attempts in 35 minutes of court time. Teague continuously probed the Sixers defense, and it was no accident that he posted the game’s best +/- on the night with a +18.
Outside of Teague, there was yet another career milestone on the Hawks roster. DeMarre Carroll also set a new career-high for points scored with 21, as the swingman converted 8 of 14 field goals (including 5 threes for another career-high) and grabbed 6 rebounds. It’s almost a shame that Carroll’s offensive surge came on the same night as Teague’s binge and Williams’ return (we’ll come back to this), but DeMarre has been solid all season, and his offense really helped on the wing in this game.
As for Williams, the former South Gwinnett Comet returned with a vengeance, playing almost exactly his 16-minute allotment from pre-game, and he scored 7 points on 3 of 8 shooting. Head coach Mike Budenholzer was quick to reference Williams’ on-court acumen in post game by saying that “he just really understands how to play basketball”, and that was immediately evident during his on-court time. Williams also showed flashes of his trademark quickness, but he fit in seamlessly with the offense, and that’s a testament to his preparation.
Kyle Korver also contributed to a day that was already full of story lines, as he extended his streak of consecutive games with a 3-pointer to a startling 82. Korver is in full pursuit of Dana Barros (89 straight) for the all-time NBA record, and he got this one out of the way early, on his first attempt at the 3:35 mark of the 1st quarter. Korver finished the night with 13 points (on just 6 field goal attempts) and 6 rebounds, and while he was largely overshadowed, I thought he was very, very solid.
The lineup change in the pregame saw Coach Bud lean on Gustavo Ayon as the team’s starting center, while moving Paul Millsap to head up the bench unit. Budenholzer called the move “something that we wanted to look at” during his postgame thoughts, and it was certainly intriguing. Ayon played only 5 minutes in the 1st half (despite getting the start), but he finished the game with 17 minutes of playing time, and the big man contributed 6 points and 4 rebounds to go along with 5 fouls and high-end defense.
It wasn’t a loudly productive game from Millsap (8 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals), but I somewhat like the look of a 2nd-unit with the type of balance that Millsap and Williams would provide. It’s tough to read too much into this lineup change in a 1-game sample, but it isn’t the sideshow that many would believe by the surface of things, and Budenholzer also has a 6th-man reference from his days in San Antonio with Manu Ginobili.
Finally, Al Horford was Al Horford, and while I say that a lot in this space, it is always a good thing. Horford had a “quiet” 20-point, 8-rebound effort for the Hawks, and he was generally fantastic in 35 minutes of action. The big man started the scoring by putting up the first 6 points of the night for Atlanta (4 of which came on beautiful pick-and-rolls with Teague), but from there, it was a typically efficient effort. In addition, Horford blocked 3 more shots on Friday night, and that is another added dimension to an already special arsenal.
Short of a 2nd quarter collapse that saw the Sixers shoot over 70% (yes, 70%) from the field in route to 39 points, the Hawks defense was also quite solid in this game. Philly was held to just 5 of 19 (26.3%) from beyond the 3-point arc, and that was a far cry (toward the positive) from Atlanta’s previous mark. In addition, the Hawks forced 16 turnovers from the Sixers, and that led to 16 points on the other end.
10-point home wins over what is a fairly hapless Sixers roster (with apologies to Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner, who finished with 27 points) shouldn’t be particularly noteworthy for a team with playoff aspirations. However, this was a case where the Hawks excelled in many, many areas, and when the team’s point guard has the game of his NBA life, “noteworthy” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Teague’s 33-point, 10-assist performance does tell the story of just how electric he was at times during the game, but it doesn’t quite capture the explosion that was his 2nd half peak, where he notched 23 (!) points and 6 assists in just under 20 minutes of court time. It is thrown around a lot (loosely at times) in the world of the NBA, but Jeff Teague may be making the proverbial “leap” before our very eyes, and if he continues this unheralded pace, we’ll remember this game as the night where the breakout took full effect.