This. The Hawks just stole home court advantage from a team that finished a mere 18 games ahead of it over the course of the regular season. Were the Hawks merely coasting for most of the regular season, knowing all along that they have an extra gear and that their season would be dictated by their performance in April and May? Viva the meaningless 82-game regular season!
Just about every writer who previewed the series, friend and foe alike, saw doom for the Hawks, especially with Kirk HInrich injured and the Hawks therefore having to look to secondary options to defend the presumptive league MVP. So naturally, Jeff Teague, the player buried on the bench by Mike Woodson and Larry Drew, turned in the best performance of his young career. Here is Bret LeGree describing Teague’s performance:
Given his lack of regular playing time over the past two seasons, Jeff Teague should probably be graded on a curve. But he needn't be. The 44:37 he played, the 10 points he scored on 11 shots (that 8 of those 11 came inside of 15 feet certainly contributed to the diverse offensive attack), the 5 assists he earned against a single turnover and the 27 shots Derrick Rose needed to score 24 points (even though the Bulls, as a whole, scored just as efficiently tonight against the Hawks as they did during the regular season) should earn the second-year point guard a passing grade on merit.
Peachtree Hoops agrees:
Can't say enough about Jeff Teague. Man was balling tonight. Again I have to mention that his efforts defensively ensured that, not only would somebody actually stay around Derrick Rose tonight, but that Johnson and Crawford did [not] have to die trying. He was 5-11, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, and a single turnover. And he only committed 2 fouls in 45 minutes. Derrick Rose drove at him, on him, shot through and over him, and never got to the free throw line. That's worth mentioning. Honestly, could Kirk Hinrich done better?
Also singing from the same hymnal/siddur, Mark Bradley cites Teague’s efforts in the run late in the third and early in the fourth to put the Hawks in charge:
Teague, who’d seen nine-plus minutes against Orlando, had gone 32 of Game 1’s first 36 minutes and had held his own against Rose. And he kept going. He was the floor when the Hawks broke it open — yes, you read that right — to start the fourth quarter. Johnson was hitting everything, and Zaza Pachulia was doing his grunt work in the lane, but none of this would have matter had Teague not held it all together.
Said Drew: “He did just a phenomenal job in running our team. And I could see our players trying to keep him motivated and stimulated. We thought we could get into the lane and cause some havoc.”
By the way, what does it say that the Chicago quotes after the game all cover a lack of intensity by the Bulls and then Larry Drew says that the veteran Hawks had to keep their rookie point guard “motivated and stimulated.” If you can’t be fired up for game one of the NBA quarterfinals, then when can you be fired up? And frankly, a series in which the Hawks reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time on the strength of a good performance from Teague will feel very strange. It will lead to all sorts of questions as to where was he for the rest of his career, as well as a query as to whether the Hawks’ brain trust has an irrational fear of playing its first round picks.
Anyway, let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. The Hawks have won a second-round game for the first time in 14 years and they have a real chance to knock out the NBA’s #1 seed. Joe Johnson played like a guy who deserved the max deal that Atlanta Spirit bestowed upon him. Jamal Crawford was money. Josh Smith made a jumper. The Hawks are up in the series without a big performance from their best player (Al Horford) and without Zaza turning in a vintage irritant in residence performance. In other words, Larry Drew could have counter-measures when Tom Thibodeau makes defensive adjustments to stop Johnson and Crawford. This could be interesting.