When Al Horford went down to a torn pectoral in late December, the Hawks were sitting third in the Eastern Conference and the only team not from Miami or Indiana in the conference above .500. There was some concern in the packed Eastern Conference that Atlanta could be in for a hard fall.
OK, Atlanta did take a bit of a fall. The Hawks are still third in the East and holding firm, holding off the hard-charging Raptors.
Paul Millsap earned his All-Star berth, but the engine that keeps the Hawks going remains Jeff Teague.
At one point, it was Teague that everyone had pegged as the eventual All Star on the Hawks with Josh Smith out of the picture. His Playoff exploits have already become somewhat legendary. For Teague, this year had to be about him bringing that kind of level of play to the regular season and doing it every day.
Sure the East is weak, but the Hawks have not missed a beat in the standings without Josh Smith and now without Al Horford in the lineup.
"We're playing, it's a group effort," Teague said after a game in late December shortly after Horford's injury. "We're just out there playing and trying to make things happen. I think Lou and those guys, and Shelvin being out there with me, make my job a lot easier. The bigs are playing well. We're playing well as a group. We've just got to gel together again. It was a big loss for us with Al being injured. We've just got to get back together."
The Hawks have become more of a perimeter-oriented team for sure. In those first games in december since Horford's injury, the Hawks put up 39 3-pointers in each of the first two games. This was not a team of put the ball in the post and kick it out. This was a drive and kick team with Jeff Teague running the pick and roll and doing what he can do.
Teague is averaging 16.2 points and 7.3 assists per game, posting a 43.9 percent effective field goal percentage, but also a 36.9 percent assist rate. While his offense is perhaps a little more inefficient than you would like, he is truly the straw that stirs the Hawks offense.
And it has continued to hum along even without Horford with Teague pulling the strings even more.
In January, Teague averaged 13.6 points and 4.6 assists per game on 37.4 percent. It was his lowest output in any month this season. Defenses clearly focused on him and he had to adjust. Millsap's strong play lately should enable Teague to get some more space and improve his play and his numbers.
Teague might have been forcing things. He said the guards will have to take on more of the creating responsibility with Horford out and Teague might have taken that responsibility to an extreme.
The Hawks certainly did not use the opportunity to increase their lead in the East and firmly put themselves in third in the East. Teague will be key for Atlanta to keep its positioining in the East and hold off the hard-charging Raptors and Nets. Homecourt advantage is very much on the line and there remains the chance for the Hawks to show they remain a solid team in the East.
They have weathered every storm so far and Teague has been the key to that.
"I think we have a resilient group," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "They just continue to fight and compete. They made a lot of plays last night and in each of the games. It's a credit to our players and their competitiveness and their resiliency."
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