Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Jeff Teague Movement

Jeff Teague fans told us he was this good from the very beginning.

Whenever a point-guard issue comes up for the Atlanta Hawks, you'll see them all over the comments section of the AJC website, always vocal, always supportive.

Sometimes the issue doesn't have to involve the point guard, but they'll be there anyway, telling anyone who will listen/read about Jeff Teague and how great he is and how he should be getting more playing time.

"Free Jeff Teague," they will say.

I ignored them for about a year. I saw Teague in garbage time last year in the playoffs against Milwaukee and didn't see what they were seeing.

But eventually, it started to set in: Jeff Teague can play.

I named this group of Jeff Teague supporters the "Jeff Teague Movement" because they reminded me of how a political movement supports their candidate, and I voiced my support for the movement back at the trade deadline.

The problem was Larry Drew supported another party, so Teague continued to go mostly unused at the end of Atlanta's bench.

With the injury to Kirk Hinrich at the end of the Orlando series, Jeff Teague's moment had finally arrived.

But it was a tremendous challenge: the second round of the playoffs, his first playoff start, the team with the NBA's best record, playing on the road against the league MVP.

Cautiously optimistic would be the best way to describe my feelings going into the series.

The defense without Hinrich was never a concern because defense is what Jeff Teague is all about, and Atlanta has other athletes, as noted by Derrick Rose before the series, to help Teague whenever he slips up.

But what about the moment? Would it be too big for him?

Before the series he said these were the type of moments "you live for," indicating that he was more than ready for the challenge.

It sounded good.

But this was still Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls on the road in the second round of the playoffs.

By halftime, all questions had been answered.

It was Teague who scored the first basket of the series, not Rose, and he outscored Rose 6-5 in the first half of an Atlanta win in which he played 45 minutes.

After the game, Larry Drew gave him the game ball.

That was nice, but what about Game 2?

Could he follow up on Game 1 and show he truly belonged?

In Game 2, Teague led the Hawks in scoring and had three steals and two blocks and forced at least two other turnovers with his active defense.

He even stripped Rose in the open court, leading to two made free throws.

It's only two games, and he still has a long way to go in this series, but it looks like all of those Jeff Teague fans in the comments section of the AJC website were right.

And everyone else is starting to realize what they knew all along: Jeff Teague can play.

And most importantly, he is finally free.

Here is a really good highlight reel featuring Teague, including clips from his six points in 9.2 seconds against Portland on March 12.

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