Atlanta increases its aggression to even the series at 2-2
POSTED: May 12, 2015 10:46 AM ET
Hawks vs. Wizards Game 4
Jeff Teague scored 26 points, grabbed four rebounds and handed out eight assists to help the Hawks even the series against the Wizards, 106-101.
WASHINGTON — In the regular season, the Atlanta Hawks ran an equal opportunity offense, heavy on both ball movement and player movement, where the ball would typically find the open man.
Six Hawks averaged double-figures and none more than 12.7 shots or 16.7 points per game. Over 68 percent of their field goals were assisted and over 79 percent of their jump shots were uncontested. Both of those rates led the league, the latter by a wide margin.
The Hawks will tell you that they want to stay true to themselves in the postseason. But their opponent in the conference semifinals is doing its best to take away what has made the Hawks so good all year. The Washington Wizards, by denying passing lanes aggressively, are stifling the Hawks' ball movement.
Game Time: Teague Aggressive in Game 4
Dennis Scott breaks down Jeff Teague's play in Game 4.
Doc Rivers, when he was coaching multiple playoff runs in Boston, would sometimes say, "This is a Paul Pierce series" or "This is a Ray Allen series," pointing out which one of his players was going to see the most opportunities against that particular opponent.
Teague delivered, scoring 26 points and dishing out eight assists in the Hawks' 106-101 victory on Monday. The series is tied, heading back to Atlanta for Game 5 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, TNT).
Nobody in the Atlanta locker room - not head coach Mike Budenholzer, not Teague himself, and not his teammates - will say that the point guard carries an extra load in this series. But it has become clear the Hawks will go as Teague goes, especially with Wizards point guard John Wall out with a broken hand. Wall's absence makes Teague's job easier on defense and puts an inferior defender in front of him on offense.
Entering Game 4, Teague knew that he had to be aggressive. He and back-up point guard Dennis Schroder had success in the second half of Game 3 by attacking off the dribble and making the Wizards pay for overplaying the passing lanes up top.
"We knew that had to carry over into this game," Teague said. "They're really aggressive denying the ball, getting up in you, and we're really fast. So we just had to take our speed, try to get to the rim, and make some plays in the paint."
Teague Hits The Big Three
With the shot-clock winding down, Jeff Teague hits the three-pointer.
The Hawks went heavier on straight pick-and-rolls, with Teague and Schroder handling the ball and Al Horford or Paul Millsap setting the screen. The point guards registered 29 drives in Game 4, according to SportVU, 11 more than they averaged in the first three games.
The early aggression led to 65 points on 47 possessions in the first half and a 10-point halftime lead, with 40 of the 65 points coming in the paint or from the free throw line. Teague attacked. Schroder attacked. Millsap attacked.
The Washington defense has forced Atlanta to adapt. The Hawks are averaging 47 fewer passes per game in this series (276) than they did in the regular season (323). And Kyle Korver can barely get a shot off.
While Korver took just four shots in Game 4, Teague took 20, his second highest total of the season.
"Sometimes, you feel like you're shooting too much or doing too much," Teague said. "But it's working. We got to continue to keep doing it. If we play like that, I think it makes it easier for everybody else on the team. They get open shots."
With a little more space, Al Horford shot 6-for-13 from mid-range on Monday, having shot 7-for-23 from there through the first three games. And those jumpers, in turn, allowed Horford to attack off the dribble as well.
"Our guards really putting pressure on their bigs opened those opportunities up for me," Horford said.
With the added need for dribble penetration, Budenholzer often doubled up on his point guards. Teague and Schroder played almost 14 minutes together on Monday, having not played more than six minutes together in any of the Hawks' previous nine playoff games.
The Hawks had been outscored by 19 points in 21 playoff minutes with the two point guards on the floor together before Monday. But they were a plus-5 in Game 4.
"We could put the ball in either one of their hands and get them in attack mode," Budenholzer said, "get them in aggressive type of situations. And then on the backside, you had a second one that could play a second pick-and-roll or get to the paint. So playing those two together had some good moments."
Budenholzer isn't ready to put the rest of the series on Teague's shoulders, but acknowledges that the ball will be in his hands.
"Each game's different and each game takes on a little bit of its own personality," the coach said. "All year, Jeff's made good decisions on distributing and scoring. We need to continue to do that. That's the burden of a point guard in our league. We expect a lot of him and Jeff made a lot of good decisions tonight."
If he can do it again on Wednesday, the Hawks will be one game from the conference finals.
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