Jeff Teague wasn’t supposed to be in Atlanta this year. He signed Milwaukee’s four-year, $32 million offer sheet this past offseason and appeared ready to move on and play for his old coach with the Bucks. But Atlanta matched the deal and now he and the eighth-seeded Hawks are one home game away from becoming just the sixth team in NBA history to upset a No. 1 seed in the first round.
Even on the cusp of history, when we talked with Teague during his off-day yesterday, he was as cool as a cucumber and almost exclusively concerned with playing well for his team.
On a breezy day in Atlanta, we lost some of our conversation to the wind, we chatted on the phone with Teague before perhaps the biggest game of his five years in the league. You wouldn’t think it when Teague spoke with us. He was diplomatic about the Hawks chances to close out the series in Atlanta tonight, and feels they have been playing like a team all season, but the injury bug prevented them from finishing with a better record.
Regardless of Atlanta’s upcoming Game 5, we also talked sneakers (he’s an obsessive collector as you’ll see), new coach Mike Budenholzer and a different team in Atlanta after the departure of Josh Smith and addition of all-star Paul Millsap.
Our conversation has been edited for space.
*** *** ***
Dime: Do you get angry at all about the majority of press coverage focusing on the downfall of Indiana more so than Atlanta’s play?
Jeff Teague: We don’t really pay attention to it. We just focus on doing what we do on the floor.
Dime: Did you know you were going to match up this well, spreading the floor, taking Roy Hibbert out of it.
JT: We played them well in the regular season. We knew it was going to be a challenge because they’re a good team, but we’re a confident group. Any given night anybody can be beaten, but we knew we had to play really well to get a win at Indiana.
Dime: Talk a little bit about losing Al Horford and grinding out a playoff berth even after he went down.
JT: It was tough; [Al] was our go-to-guy, he was our leader. We played well without Al for a stretch, and then other guys got injured, like DeMarre [Carroll] went down, Paul went down. The injury bug got us. We couldn’t get in a rhythm or a groove. Then when we finally got healthy we won, I think, four in a row. And then everything just went bad again, and we started losing. But I know we had a certain amount of games we had to win just get into the playoffs, and that’s what we did. Got everybody at 100 percent and just focus on one team. When we can do that, we’re pretty good. Coach Bud[enholzer] is great at game-planning for a team. And right now I think we’re having a lot of success because of his ability to prepare for a single team.
Dime: What’s it been like with all the changes over the summer, specifically the new coach and signing the offer sheet in Milwaukee before Atlanta matched it. Were you at all hesitant about the changes coming into this year?
JT:I would say so. I didn’t know what to expect, since I’ve been playing my whole time in Atlanta. So I was open to new experiences [in Milwaukee], and I told them that I was open to that. I knew Budenholzer from San Antonio, so I was excited, but I was happy to stay in town.
Dime: Do you think you can be an all-star next year?
JT: Uhh, that doesn’t matter. I just want to get better each year [he has: his PER has improved in every season he's been in the league], and I want the team to get better. I just want to win; I’m all about winning and I think we’re heading in the right direction with this team.
Dime: What’s the mindset going into Thursday? Obviously you guys are amped, but are you expecting Indiana to come out on fire with their backs against the wall?
JT: It’s the playoffs, so we just take it one game at a time…they’re the No. 1 seed for a reason, and they’re gonna come out fighting. It’s gonna be a hard-fought game, but we just gotta continue to do what we’ve been doing and take it one game at a time.