This season, the Atlanta Hawks have started slow but then have picked up steam, their record catching up with their league-leading statistics. But none of this has mattered against the Toronto Raptors, who coming into Thursday night's game in Atlanta had beaten the Hawks three straight times this season, twice in the month of March as the Hawks were beginning to take off.
So it was good medicine to see the Hawks dispatch the aggressive Raptors, 95-87, to get their first win of the season against a potential playoff opponent and to show how they might beat this team in the playoffs.
1. Playoff Teague
You want Playoff Teague out there. You need Playoff Teague out there. And the Hawks surely need him out there, seeing how when the Hawks needed, needed to get something done on the offensive end, Teague was the one who delivered, including the clutch drive on Cory Joseph when the all-night lead had been snipped to two.
We, as a site, have long played the organ and the song that says that Aggressive Teague is the one that wins. Wallflower Teague gets nothing done and the team always suffers from that. With physical Kyle Lowry manning the wheel for the Raptors, we don't always see Aggressive Teague because the physicality of Lowry separates us from that version of the Hawks point guard.
This wasn't the case Thursday night. We saw a very confident, sure Teague playing strong but still within himself, making 7 of 13 shots and leading all scorers with 23 points.
Al Horford said it plainly, "Jeff was really big for us there, he kind of took over and was playing very aggressive. We need more of that Jeff Teague."
Two key areas for beating the Raptors defensively were checked off in this game. One is that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have vacation homes at the free throw line, with both being in the top ten in the league in getting there, with DeRozan averaging 10 a game over the last 20 games and Lowry 8.3. Against the Hawks Thursday, Lowry took five free throws and DeRozan had a measly two. This keep the Raptors offense from being as efficient as they usually are and held them well below the game totals in the last three games against the Hawks (96, 104, 105).
"I thought we did a good job of keeping them off the line," Kyle Korver mentioned post-game. "..was probably the best 48-minute game we've played against them."
The other area is on the defensive glass. The Raptors 18.9% Offensive Rebounding Percentage was the worst of the four games this season against Atlanta. Doesn't matter if your league-leading defense (#1 over last 15 games) is executing if the other teams gets extra chances and the Hawks didn't let that happen.
3. Other stuff
It may be the ultimate compliment that Paul Millsap can play a 13-point, 14-rebound, 5 block game and everyone's thinking, "Oh, that's nice." He and Horford (11/8/6 assists) are key to beating anyone, especially the Raptors.
Mike Muscala had a great take to the hoop late in the game (MOOSE DUNKETS!) and Bud mentioned post-game that Mike gave good minutes in Toronto and wanted to give him some run "went with a little bit of gut" and thought he gave good minutes.
Kirk Hinrich got off the bench for 4+ minutes, but Bud said after the game this was due to Bazemore being out. As our own Brad Rowland had mentioned on Twitter, the history has been to play Kirk to get Dennis Schröder's attention. Dennis was 0-7 with three assists and three turnovers in his 15 minutes.
Kyle Korver: Three Blocked Shots. How was this not the headline? He's actually done it 13 times in his career. His career high is four, done one time, 2/1/2008 with the Jazz in Washington.
Well, the entire playoff bracket below the Cavs and Raptors keep on winning, including the Heat against the Bulls Thursday night, so the Hawks are still in third place, but the Heat and Boston are still a 1/2 game back with the Hornets 2 1/2 games back of the Hawks with four games for them to play.
The next game is Saturday night against the Celtics. Feeling the playoffs yet?