Teague hopes to prove worth to Hawks

CHICAGO — Hawks coach Larry Drew presented point guard Jeff Teague with the game ball after his team’s surprising victory over the Bulls on Monday.

If he keeps this up, Teague finally could get the nod as the Hawks’ future starter, or at least as the regular backup.

“I think if I have good showings in the playoffs, they will start believing in me a little more,” Teague said Tuesday.

It’s easy to believe in Teague after what he did in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Forced into the starting lineup because of an injury to Kirk Hinrich, Teague responded with his finest performance as a pro in the Hawks’ 103-95 victory over Chicago.

Teague pestered Chicago’s Derrick Rose, the league MVP. He also ran the offense with pace and poise while making few of the mistakes expected from a player with no real playoff experience.

Teague earned no worse than a draw in a matchup that by all indications should have been a rout. It was unexpected because Teague had been a part-time player for the Hawks until Hinrich’s injury.

Teague played in only 70 games this season, with 12 appearances for less than five minutes and nine others for less than 10 minutes. Since drafting him in 2009 the Hawks have had two coaches, two starters at point guard and no regular role for Teague, who is under contract for next season.

“I think he understands the dynamics of what he has to show,” Hawks forward Josh Smith said. “You have to show some worth.”

Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson has never questioned Teague’s value. In training camp Johnson urged Teague not to defer to his veteran teammates.

When Teague had good games, Johnson would say the Hawks needed him. When Teague went to the end of the bench, Johnson stayed in his ear. “Be ready because one day you are going to get your opportunity,” Teague said Johnson told him. “You have got to show the world.”

That day came Monday, and Teague showed them, just as Johnson expected.

“He is very explosive, quick, fast,” Johnson said. “He may be a little smaller, but at the same time he has a big heart. I know he can play in this league.”

Teague was at the end of the Hawks’ guard rotation as the team won 53 games last season. The Hawks primed him to supplant Mike Bibby as the starter this season, but neither that nor a spot in the rotation materialized, though Teague’s speed and defense were needed.

Teague’s production this season on a per-minute basis improved in every category except assists. According to basketballvalue.com, the Hawks’ defensive efficiency was much better with lineups that included Teague plus the starters or sixth man Jamal Crawford.

Drew played Teague more minutes than predecessor Mike Woodson did, but Drew never believed he was consistent enough.

“The games he really played well left me scratching my head at times on how good this kid can really be,” Drew said. “I’ve certainly seen the package.”

Teague showed his physical gifts on the Hawks’ second possession of Game 1. He took a pass on the left wing, faked to his right and then zipped past Rose to lift a shot over Bulls center Joakim Noah near the basket.

“I think coming in and getting that floater early gave him some confidence,” Smith said.

Teague went on to lead the defensive effort against Rose, chasing him through screens and challenging his jump shots. When Rose started one of his explosive drives to the basket, Teague either shadowed him to the rim or funneled him to where the help was.

But now that Teague showed what he can do, it’s unlikely he will be banished to the bench like so many times this season.

“That would have probably broke a lot of people’s confidence,” Smith said. “He stays with it, he works hard and he doesn’t give up on his talent.”

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