The shakeup Hawks coach Larry Drew has been hinting at for weeks finally came. But it wasn't what anyone had in mind.
With All-Star center Al Horford out nursing a sore ankle suffered the night before, Drew inserted second-year point guard Jeff Teague, and the Hawks took off.
Teague tied a career high with 24 points, making Drew look like an absolute genius in the process. Teague also collected a career-high five steals, four rebounds, three assists and three blocks. His energy provided the boost the Hawks needed to snap their four-game losing streak and bounce back after a week of sleepwalking.
"He gave it to me in a big way tonight," Drew said. "He was sensational from start to finish on both ends of the floor. His speed and quickness is just something we don't have otherwise. I'm hoping this will be kind of a springboard for him. We needed something to rejuvenate us, and he did that."
Teague was the forgotten man at the Feb. 24 trade deadline when the Hawks sent Mike Bibby to Washington in a package that brought Kirk Hinrich to town. Against the Blazers, with his lineup in need of another starter in place of Horford, Drew opted to play Teague and Hinrich together in the backcourt.
With Joe Johnson sliding over to replace Marvin Williams at small forward, the Hawks finally found a mix that worked for them. But there's no doubt it all started with Teague, who has always exhibited the speed, instincts and explosive burst that Drew liked but has had trouble grasping the leadership mantle the organization expected him to.
"I've never stopped believing in this kid because I see what the package is with him," Drew said. "He can make shots. He's got speed. He's got quickness. He can go from end to end. Defensively, he can be a nuisance."
It was just the eighth start of Teague's career, a late coming-out party of sorts for the 2009 first-round draft pick. But his impact on the Hawks was undeniable. He scored six points in a stunning, 9.2-second stretch of the first quarter to announce his arrival.
"I just wanted to get up there and put some pressure on, to try to overplay the passing lane and make something happen," Teague said. "I got my hands on a couple of balls and got lucky."
Maybe the Hawks got lucky, too. They might have found the spark that can save their season.
HAWKS 91, TRAIL BLAZERS 82: As good as Jeff Teague was on his breakout night, the NBA's reigning Sixth Man Award winner might have been even better in the second half. And it was Jamal Crawford's 20-point second half, along with a monster showing from Teague, that helped the Hawks snap their four-game losing streak in a win over a surging Portland team. Hawks coach Larry Drew said he called Crawford into his office at halftime so he could explain to his star reserve exactly what he needed from him so the Hawks could end their slide.
Drew said he told Crawford, "'I need you to be in attack mode. Be aggressive, stay off the officials.' He came out and responded in the second half. He has a tendency of trying to draw fouls, particularly out there at the 3-point line, and it throws off his shot."
Nothing could slow Crawford and Teague on this night. And that was huge for the Hawks, who needed this win as much as they've needed any in weeks.
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