In this bizarre, frustrating and somehow entertaining series between the Atlanta Hawks and the Washington Wizards, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer had opted to play Dennis Schroder, not starter Jeff Teague, to close some games, despite Schroder’s noticeably poor play. That was not the case in Game 6, as Budenholzer, with the chance to put away the pesky Wizards for good, went with his All-Star point guard to bring the team home. Teague rewarded his coach’s – and his team’s – faith immediately.
With the game tied 89 a piece and the Atlanta Hawks desperately trying to regain their rhythm, Teague used a high screen from Al Horford and raced to the left elbow with Nene hedging on his side. As soon as he got to the elbow, John Wall helped over to try and bother his shot. Teague rose, though not to shoot, but to loft it over Wall to the cutting DeMarre Carroll, who easily laid it in to give the Hawks the lead. While this was a defensive breakdown from the Wizards – Pierce should have rotated to cut off Carroll’s lane – they can be forgiven for their error because Teague’s pass is one only a handful of players can make.
Notice how Teague’s intention was never to shoot. From the moment Teague takes off, he’s only doing so for the purpose of getting a better angle to deliver the ball to Carroll. Everything about that sequence is impressive – from the amount of respect the Wizards show Teague as a scorer, to Teague’s split-second decision making, to the perfection with which Teague passes.
But wait, it gets better.
The next possession, the Hawks return to their Teague-Horford pick-and-roll. The Wizards do a slightly better job defending, but Teague’s vision, often criminally underrated, comes through once again.
There’s a slight gap in between Beal and Nene, Teague’s two defenders. It’s small, but it’s enough for Teague to see the angle he needs to get the ball to Carroll, once again making a perfect cut. With that angle memorized, Teague pulls out another trick in his bag, looking away from where he’ll pass the ball, momentarily forcing Nene to close out on Horford, sitting at the top of the key, instead of crashing down on Carroll. Teague whips the pass across his body, hits Carroll dead-on, and the Hawks go up four. Sometimes, the look-away pass is nothing more than showmanship (which is fine, it’s just unnecessary at times). Teague had to look away. If he hadn’t, Nene likely could have recovered and at least bothered, if not blocked, Carroll’s shot.
Horford had 20 points, 13 rebounds and a clutch defensive possession in the waning minutes of Game 6. Carroll had 25 points, 10 rebounds and the bucket that put the Hawks in the lead for good.
But it was Jeff Teague and his terrific vision that led the Atlanta Hawks to a 94-91 win past the Washington Wizards and into their first Eastern Conference finals in 45 years.