Atlanta Hawks: Does “Playoff Teague” Exist?


The bases are loaded at Fenway Park. David Ortiz steps to the plate in the bottom of the 8th inning during Game 2 of the  2013 ALCS. The Boston Red Sox find themselves down 5-1 to the Detroit Tigers, staring a potential 2-0 series deficit in the face. Ortiz is about to change that. During the at-bat Big Papi sends a Joaquin Benoit changeup over the fence for a game-tying grand slam.

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As the ball sails into the bullpen, just past the right-field wall, sportswriters begin to feverishly peck away at their keyboards, writing about Ortiz’s latest “clutch” moment. He is a clutch hero in Boston, and you cannot convince any Red Sox fan otherwise.

The concept of “clutch” is debated frequently in the sports world. Being “clutch” suggests that a player somehow raises their game in the most important moments. A clutch player has a magical, almost superhuman ability in those moments that matter. That seems, on the surface, a bit silly. The suggestion that a player intentionally makes themselves play better when it matters most also suggests that they somehow tone it down a notch in other moments.

That is highly unlikely, and a bit insulting. These are professional athletes that care seriously about the statistics they put up, especially when those stats can have an impact on their next contract. If a clutch player were described as a player that doesn’t let the pressure affect them during important moments would be a better definition and one that absolutely fits some of the players we label as “clutch”. Now that I have redefined what the word clutch means, let’s talk about the Hawks.

The Atlanta Hawks have their own version of someone that his considered “clutch”. That player is point guard Jeff Teague. The nickname “Playoff Teague” has followed him around the last few seasons, as fans and writers have implied that Teague plays better in the playoffs. His performance against the Chicago Bulls in 2011 may have been what landed him the name in the first place.

Does the name fit? Is it sarcastic? Just what should we make of “Playoff Teague”? It may be just a fun internet joke, but my curiosity has been stoked. Let’s take a gander at Teague’s playoff numbers.

The first season Teague and Atlanta made the postseason together, when he actually played significant minutes, was 2010-2011. That postseason Teague played very well in a small sample. He averaged 11.8 points, and 3.5 assists per game and shot 51.4 percent from the floor.

After only starting seven games during the regular season, Teague started six of eight playoff games, showing he had what it takes to start in the NBA. All three stats showed significant increases from his regular season numbers (5.2 points and 2 assists per game on 43.8 percent shooting), and thus, “Playoff Teague” was born.

Since then Teague has played four consecutive seasons in which he has performed better in the regular season than he has in the playoffs. His shooting percentages during those seasons dropped to 41.1 percent, 33.3 percent, 39.3 percent, and 41.1 percent respectively once the postseason rolled around. From outside he’s been even worse. In the last five seasons he has shot 14.3 percent, 41.2 percent (yay!), 30 percent, 33.3 percent, and 32.3 percent from three-point range in the playoffs. For the most part he just gets worse in the playoffs. Not bad necessarily, just not up to his usual standards.

Regular Season

2014-15 ★20.6.56637.92.916.625.

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/9/2015.



Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/9/2015.

Of course, that is to be expected. In the playoffs the opponent has more time to scout your strengths and weaknesses. The defense is more intense, the driving lanes are tighter, the passing lanes are more congested, and it is much tougher to get an open shot. Teague’s shooting struggles in the playoffs are not unusual.

Even Steph Curry saw his regular season numbers dip a bit during the 2015 NBA Playoffs. The playoffs are just indisputably more difficult. The NBA is without a doubt the toughest league to win a title in. Since 1980 only ten different franchises have won the NBA Finals. That difficulty is what makes the all-time greats and their feats so impressive.

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  • So, does “Playoff Teague” exist? Well, sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t. For his career Teague averages 11.5 points, 5 assists, and 2 turnovers per game on 45 percent shooting and 34.1 percent from three-point range during the regular season.

    In the playoffs that shifts to 13 points, 4 assists, and 1.9 turnovers per game on 40.6 percent shooting and 32.8 percent from outside. Not exactly the playoff savior his moniker would suggest. Jeff Teague is a good basketball player that plays well in both the regular season and the playoffs, though he is better in the regular season. That’s not exactly groundbreaking analysis, but facts are facts.

    However, you can bet I’ll break out the #PlayoffTeague hashtag whenever he makes an “and one” layup to put the Hawks ahead during the fourth quarter in the first round of the playoffs. Nicknames are fun and so is NBA basketball. Is it opening night yet?

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