Vivlamore reporting from Cleveland.
As the Hawks prepared for the opening tipoff against the Cavaliers, Josh Smith pointed at Jeff Teague. It was a meaningful gesture as if to tell the point guard ‘It starts with you.’
Did it ever.
Teague scored a career-high 27 points, including 14 in the first half, as the Hawks rallied late for a 102-94 victory over the Cavaliers Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Hawks (18-9) scored the final points of the game, after trailing 94-93, to pull out their third straight win. They got a basket by Teague, a basket and two free throws from Al Horford and a 3-pointer from Kyle Korver to seal the hard-fought victory.
Smith and Teague revealed little about what is a pre-game ritual.
“He always says ‘C’mon, energy, effort,’” Teague said. “That’s our thing.”
Smith would not give details. However, he didn’t hesitate to state the importance of Teague.
“It’s something that we have going,” Smith said. “It’s between me and him. As he goes, in all seriousness, whenever he is aggressive on both ends of the floor it sets the tone for us and we are a successful team. He understands now. He’s coming into his own. He understands where we need him to be.”
The Hawks, playing short-handed, also got double-figure scoring from Lou Williams (16 points), Horford (16), Anthony Tolliver (13) and Korver (11). Teague also had eight assists and two steals and Horford finished with 11 rebounds.
The Hawks were without Ivan Johnson (stomach illness) and Devin Harris (sore left foot). They lost Anthony Morrow (strained right hip muscle) for the second half. They then lost Smith (strained right hip flexor) for the fourth quarter. Coach Larry Drew said he was tempted to use DeShawn Stevenson, resting for Saturday’s back-to-back game against the Pacers.
“The guys who came off the bench did a phenomenal job,” Drew said.
The Hawks led 55-54 at halftime despite leading by as many as 11 points in the second quarter. They used a 14-3 run in the second quarter to take control early. Much of the 11-point lead was built with bench players including Tolliver, Morrow, Zaza Pachulia and Mike Scott. Tolliver had 11 points in the second quarter, including two 3-pointers, with four rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot.
The Cavaliers closed the gap to a single point at intermission with a 15-5 run highlighted by Irving’s crazy running 3-pointer at the buzzer. Waiters and Irving combined for 13 of the points in the run.
“We were just playing hard,” Tolliver said of the bench play. “We all went out there and said ‘We have nothing to lose.’ Let’s play hard and play together. That’s what we did. We made some shots, we created shots for each other and got the good lead.”
The Cavaliers (7-24) had their two-game win streak snapped. Irving scored a game-high 28 points to lead the Cavaliers and Dion Waiters added 18 points.
His hair was there but Anderson Varejao was not. The Cavaliers played without the NBA’s leading rebounder on ‘Anderson Varejao Wig Night’ in Cleveland.
The Cavaliers kept the momentum following intermission and went on a 14-4 run to start the third quarter. They opened a nine-point lead, 68-59, before the Hawks made a run of their own. Aided by two straight 3-pointers from Korver and one each by Williams and Teague they briefly regained lead. The Cavaliers scored the final six points, four on free throws by Alonzo Gee, and took an 80-75 lead into the final quarter.
However, the Hawks outscored the Cavaliers 27-14 in the fourth quarter.
“It was a good example of youth versus experience,” Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said. “If you don’t know what I mean, the last three minutes of the game the Hawks did a heck of a job running their offense and getting the ball into the paint and we just settled for bad jump shots.”
Teague was 11 of 19 from the field, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range.
“I didn’t say a word to him,” Drew said of Teague. “I would like to take credit for it but, no, I’m not going to do it. He just came out and played. He played with the energy and the intensity I’ve always said when he plays with that type of energy he makes us a much better ball club. He came out and took the challenge.”
The win avenges the November loss at Philips Arena when the Hawks failed to hold a nine-point fourth-quarter lead.
The Cavaliers lost guard Daniel Gibson in the second quarter with a concussion after he took an inadvertent hand to the face by Morrow.
- Chris Vivlamore
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