ATLANTA – It’s rare to see a game turn at the end of the first quarter, but tonight it happened. Atlanta’s 91-82 victory of Portland came about largely because of an 8-0 run at the end of the first quarter, one that snapped the Hawks out of their offensive doldrums long enough to end a four-game losing streak.
The catalyst? Surprise starter Jeff Teague, who played the best game of his young career with 24 points, five steals, and two chase-down blocks at the rim. Shockingly, Teague tore apart Blazers stalwart Andre Miller, holding him to one point on 0-for-8 shooting – and the one point came on a technical foul shot.
As for the key sequence, Atlanta was trailing 18-11 with 15 seconds left in the first; by the time the quarter ended the Hawks had the lead thanks to sloppy Portland ballhandling and three straight steals by Teague.
It started when Joe Johnson made a jumper from the foul line, but the real craziness started when Portland tried to inbound. First Gerald Wallace threw a bad pass to Patty Mills that Teague intercepted; he passed to Marvin Williams and got it back, drawing a foul and making one shot.
No problem, Portland still had an 18-14 lead. But then Mills tried to push the ball upcourt for a last shot and Teague stole the ball at midcourt, cruising in for a dunk with four seconds left in the quarter.
Unbelievably, Portland threw away the inbound pass to Mills again – this time in the opposite corner – and Teague stopped and pulled up for a 3-pointer as the quarter ended. It went through and the Hawks had the game back in their favor.
“Coach [Larry] Drew told us to pick up the pressure,” said Teague. “Get our hands in the passing lanes and try to make something happen.”
“We played with fire and got burned,” said Blazers coach Nate McMillan. “We knew this team played the passing lanes. They’re quick, they’re athletic, they gamble. You have to come back to the ball on your outlets.”
Interestingly, Drew told Teague to follow the example of the Lakers’ Derek Fisher, when the defending champions were here earlier in the week.
“He told me, ‘Watch how [Fisher] picks up full-court. That’s what I want you to do’. And he gave me the opportunity tonight.”
For one night, at least, it worked out spectacularly well … and rescued the Hawks from a puzzling skid in the process.