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Teague finding his way

Hawks want guard to be more aggressive

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 10, 2012
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ATLANTA - The same word keeps coming up: aggressive.

Jeff Teague says it. His teammates say it. His coaches say it. To be successful, the Hawks guard needs to be more aggressive, on defense, on offense, everywhere.

“He’s been aggressive, really aggressive the last month of the season, really,’’ said teammate Marvin Williams. “When he plays like that, I think we’re a tough team to beat. He’s always pushing the ball.

“He’s always attacking the basket, trying to make plays for everyone else. As long as he continues to play like that, we’ll be in good shape.’’

Teague has the ability to do it every night, the motor, and the skills. And yet the aggressiveness isn’t always there, at least not in the ways that the Atlanta coaching staff would like. That was why coaches approached Teague before Game 4 last Sunday, telling him that they want more of that, especially in the fourth quarter.

“Offensively, when he’s attacking, obviously we’re a different ball club,’’ coach Larry Drew said. “I just need for him to pick up his defense much more, which he and I talk about after every game.

“He’s defending a guy who is one of the better point guards in this league in [Rajon] Rondo. It’s just a matter of stepping up and taking the challenge. He’s not going to shut him down, but he’s got to make things a little bit more difficult for him.’’

Teague has proven that he can defend in that way, taking down Chicago’s Derrick Rose in both the regular season and last year’s playoffs. It just needs to continue.

“He’s capable,’’ Drew said. “It’s just a matter of mind over matter, just going out and really competing and trying to make life as miserable for [Rondo] as possible. He has certainly shown that he can do it against some of the better guards in this league.’’

Ultimately, though, Teague is a scoring point guard. It’s what he is best at. In Game 3, he was the Hawks’ second option after Joe Johnson, especially in the fourth quarter, with Josh Smith on the bench, but he wasn’t always as good as he needed to be.

“We need him to be in an aggressive mode,’’ Drew said. “Can’t be passive at that point, when the shot clock’s running down. He is the only one probably on the floor that has that break-the-defense-down type speed. So we just need him to be aggressive and be smart with his decisions in that situation.’’

He needs to attack, needs to use his natural basketball instincts, needs to play to his skills. As Drew said of the guard, who went from starting 10 games in his first two seasons to all 66 this year, “He’s definitely growing.’’

In Tuesday night’s Game 5, which the Hawks won, 87-86, to stay alive in the series, they altered their starting lineup, taking out Kirk Hinrich, ensuring that Teague would be the one bringing up the ball. In 43 minutes, Teague managed 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers, and had five assists. He added two blocks.

The game started slowly for the Hawks - exactly what they hoped would not happen. They were looking for a start like they had had in Game 1, when they rushed out ahead of the Celtics using their legs and their transition offense to bury Boston before Boston knew what hit it.

Instead, they fell behind quickly. So Teague knew things had to change.

“I just feel like sometimes I have to be aggressive, I have to pick and choose my spots, try to get Joe going a little bit,’’ Teague said. “We really couldn’t get nothing going the first quarter, so I thought I’d be a little more aggressive as the game went on. Other guys picked up the scoring, I just tried to make the shots when I was open.’’

In the five games of the series, Teague has averaged 15.8 points and 3.8 assists, demonstrating the huge steps taken by the young point guard in his brief time in the league. But there is more for Teague to do in leading the Hawks. There are more strides to take - starting with that aggressiveness, with knowing he is capable of doing more.

“He’s got the ability to do it all the time,’’ Williams said. “Everybody knows what type of college player he was. He’s got the ability to be aggressive night in and night out. When he plays like that, it really does help our team.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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