Teague pushes improbable Hawks

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Go ahead, try to figure out the Indiana Pacers.

Try to explain how a team that secured the best record in the Eastern Conference over six months has forgotten how to play basketball together in a few weeks.

That's actually the less complicated mystery.

Try figuring out the Atlanta Hawks.

They have an All-Star power forward who converted a four-point play Saturday night.

They have a "stretch 5" who doubles as an enforcer and is more than willing to get in the face of known bully David West. Oh, and he's a 31-year-old rookie from Macedonia.

They have a sharpshooter, possibly the best shooter in the NBA, playing the role of rim protector, twice emphatically blocking the biggest man on the floor.

They've been missing arguably their best player, Al Horford, since December, but they just beat the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse decisively for the second time in 13 days. This time, in the playoffs. As an 8-seed.

The Hawks might get mocked as one of the worst playoff teams in recent memory because of their 38-44 record, but they're also a team that has struggled with injuries all season long and only recently rediscovered a chemistry that allowed them to close the season 7-3 to secure a playoff spot.

Atlanta might've beaten a Pacers team that apparently hasn't recovered from its late-season tailspin, but it can also be true that the Hawks are now playing far better than their record would indicate.

"We don't think we're an 8-seed," said Paul Millsap, whose four-point play in the first half included one of 11 Hawks 3s. "We think we're better than an 8-seed."

They certainly look like more than your average 8-seed when Jeff Teague is showing off like he was Saturday.

The 25-year-old Indianapolis native was mesmerizing, crossing up and carving through the Indiana defense for 28 points and five assists, half of his points coming in a third quarter when the Hawks outscored Indiana 30-16.

"He's the head of the snake for us, for sure," said Kyle Korver, who made only two of his seven 3-point attempts but easily had two of the most memorable blocks of his career. "If he's putting pressure on the basket, it frees up the rest of us. And because we have a lot of shooting on the perimeter, there's not always a lot of help there."

Teague has an intricate tattoo of the Indianapolis skyline along with the area code 317 on his left forearm. He grew up dreaming of being an And1 streetball legend, even playing against the And1 greats when the tour stopped by Indianapolis.

He said he played against celebrity streetballers like The Professor and Hot Sauce.

"They had some crazy tricks," Teague said. "I can't do most of the stuff they could do, but I was alright."

He was more than alright Saturday. When Hawks 7-foot rookie Pero Antic drew Roy Hibbert away from the basket, Teague would find his way to the vacated rim.

Or, when he felt like it, he showed off some of those streetball-inspired handles to shake eager defenders like Evan Turner. And it all happened in his hometown, which must've meant a little bit more for Teague.

"No, not really," he said. "My mom and dad never come to the games."

Well, let's hope they were watching, anyway.

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