ATLANTA (AP) There was absolutely nothing on the line, just a shot at some playing time for a bunch of guys who rarely get on the court.
Jeff Teague sure took advantage of it.
The Atlanta rookie set career highs with 24 points and 15 assists in what was little more than an exhibition game, leading the Hawks past the LeBron James-less Cleveland Cavaliers 99-83 in the regular-season finale Wednesday night.
“It was fun,” Teague said.
There was plenty of star power – on the bench.
James finished up his end-of-the-season break, and the Cavaliers also gave Shaquille O’Neal the night off even though he hasn’t played since going out Feb. 25 with a sprained right thumb. At the other end of the court, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford watched in street clothes; the Hawks played only one regular starter, Marvin Williams.
Both teams were already locked into their playoff seedings and saw no reason to risk injury to anyone who might play a key role in the postseason. So just about every recognizable name watched this one from the safety of the sideline, cheering on players such as Atlanta’s Jason Collins and Cleveland’s Jawad Williams.
Most of the suspense came after the game. The Hawks hung around in the locker room to watch the end of Miami’s double-overtime victory over New Jersey, which meant third-seeded Atlanta will face Milwaukee in the opening round of the playoffs instead of Dwyane Wade and the Heat.
Cleveland will open against the Chicago Bulls, who clinched the final spot in the East with a win at Charlotte.
For the top-seeded Cavaliers, the season that matters is just beginning. Cleveland is still smarting from its upset loss to Orlando in last year’s Eastern Conference finals.
“It’ll be good to play games that mean something,” Zydrunas Ilgauskas said.
Teague easily surpassed his previous career highs of 13 points and eight assists. Mario West also had a career-best with 10 points, including a spectacular dunk. Joe Smith had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“I couldn’t be more proud of a group of guys,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. “The way the bench stepped up was fantastic.”
Especially Teague, the Hawks’ first-round draft pick last summer but used sparingly through most of the regular season.
“I think this shows I can play in this league,” Teague said. “I hope I can contribute in the playoffs. This game gave the second unit a lot of confidence.”
Jamario Moon led Cleveland with 15 points but only one teammate, J.J. Hickson with 14 points, reached double figures. The pseudo-Cavaliers were particularly inept at the foul line, making only 20 of 36 attempts.
“We got through it,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said.
Collins scored 10 points – surpassing his total for the entire season. He even attempted his first 3-pointer since the 2007-08 season (and, no, it didn’t go in).
There was plenty of sloppy play. Atlanta’s Randolph Morris picked up four fouls playing less than 8 minutes in the first half, then got whistled for two more quick ones in the fourth quarter to finish off his night, having played just 15 minutes.
If nothing else, the Hawks at least showed their scrubs were better than Cleveland’s. The Cavaliers had won nine straight in the series, including a four-game sweep in the second round of last year’s playoffs.
Atlanta was assured of being the No. 3 seed after Boston lost at Chicago on Tuesday, giving Woodson a chance to at least rest most of his regulars for one game. Josh Smith, Al Horford and Mike Bibby were in uniform but never left the bench.
Notes: The crowd was announced as a sellout of 19,069, though some fans clearly stayed home after getting word that none of the big names would be playing. … The Hawks averaged 16,546 this season, actually down slightly (16,748) from a year ago even though the team won six more games and finished one spot higher in the Eastern Conference. … Seven players scored in double figures for the Hawks. … In addition to James and O’Neal, Cleveland also put G Daniel Gibson on the inactive list. … The Hawks finished 34-7 at home this season. … Brown said O’Neal will start in the playoffs despite his long layoff.