ATLANTA -- Lou Williams and Jeff Teague found themselves in disagreement on Friday night. As the two Hawks guards shared the floor in a live game for the first time since January, neither could determine the biggest accomplishment: Williams' first two points since returning from knee surgery or Teague's career-high 33.
"I told him at the end of the game that that's the best game I've seen him play since I've been here," said Williams, who played in his first NBA game since tearing his ACL on Jan. 18. "I was excited for him, and it was weird because he was more excited for my first two points. And I was like, 'Dude, I'm excited for you.'"
Following the Hawks' 113-103 win against a Michael Carter-Williams-less 76ers team, it's difficult to decide which performance warranted greater admiration.
On one hand, there's Williams. After averaging 14.1 points and 3.6 assists per game last season in former coach Larry Drew's offense, he was sorely missed after going down with the season-ending tear. Bringing him back into the fold gives coach Mike Budenholzer another ball-handler and off-guard option off the bench -- or as a starter, if he so chooses -- an area of need depth-wise with rookie Dennis Schroder and seldom-used Shelvin Mack as the only other guards on the roster. Williams made a few keys plays and logged seven points, three rebounds and two assists in his return, capping his night off at 16 minutes of play.
On the other, there's Teague, who is blossoming in Budenholzer's system. While neither the point guard nor his coach explain the turnaround outside of the usual "Be Aggressive," "Go Fast" and "Attack" mantras, it's clear that Teague has found a comfort level in the offense, a freedom to go directly at an opponent for 35-plus minutes -- especially one with its own starting point guard (Carter-Williams) watching from the sidelines with a foot injury.
Teague posted his sixth double-double in points and assists of the season Friday night -- it took him 39 games to reach that mark last season; coincidentally, he reached it on Jan. 18, the same night Williams tore his ACL -- and the numbers keep piling up. He's averaging 19.8 points, his assist-to-turnover ratio has improved and his usage rate (27.4) is nearly five percentage points higher than last season.
He has the keys, and so far he's driven the car to a tie for the third-best record (5-4) in an underwhelming Eastern Conference.
"It was was OK," Teague said of his performance before re-evaluating. "Nah, it was a good game for me, but we we've got another one tomorrow. That's good thing about the NBA, you can enjoy it for a little bit but you gotta get back at it tomorrow."
Added Williams: "Jeff's growing and I think the better that he gets, the better our team gets."
Video: Sounding Off: Jeff Teague in new system
Williams was upgraded to full-go Wednesday at practice before Budenholzer announced that he would have the 16-minute cap against Philadelphia. He used every last second, too. After the game, Williams said the knee felt "fine" and that he was comfortable in the new offense at game speed.
"I wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be. I was more nervous before the game than when I actually stepped out on the court," he said. " That's the funny thing about it. Dr. (James) Andrews said just put a basketball in my hand and I'll be fine. He said that months ago and it ended up being true.
"The only time I don't think about my knee is when I'm actually playing."
With Williams and center Gustavo Ayon, who also returned against the 76ers, back in the mix, the Hawks' depth was solidified in a hurry. By starting Ayon in the frontcourt with Al Horford (20 points, eight rebounds), Budenholzer could look down his bench in the first quarter and see Williams, Schroder, Elton Brand, Mike Scott, Cartier Martin and the team's top free agent acquisition, Paul Millsap. If that's not a scary bunch on its face, it's certainly much scarier than when Williams and Ayon are unavailable and Millsap is already in the game.
When asked about Millsap, who signed a two-year, 19 million deal in the offseason, not starting alongside Horford, the coach chalked it up to one step in a season-long process.
"I think this time of year every team, every group is trying to find the best combinations, the best way to fit their pieces together."
His backcourt prompted no such questioning. It's coming together on its own.