Photo credit: Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons
In the video game Hades, you play as Zagreus, the rebellious son of Hades, the god of the Underworld. Like any petulant kid yearning for freedom, Zagreus decides to rebel from his father and set out on his own. Each escape attempt lets Zagreus explore new talents and abilities, buoyed by a rotating cast of Greek gods.
Death restarts progress and sends you back to the start. Runs with poor power-ups, early losses of health, or just unlucky bounces end quickly but still progress the story and open up new skillsets. Eventually, those expansions and improvements in your game literacy bring you to the final boss, a brutally difficult fight that never really gets easier.
The game mirrors the NBA experience of Jeff Teague perfectly.
The NBA’s Final Boss
Imagine working so hard and maximizing every bit of skill and luck to make the NBA, only to be unlucky enough to be born into LeBron James’ timeline.
LeBron earned the moniker “The Final Boss” from Tyler Herro after their last Finals matchup. Teams led by LeBron reached 9 of the last 10 Finals. He only missed after a serious groin injury knocked him out of most of the 2018-19 season. He carries every set of teammates to the final round.
Every non-teammate confronts the reality that their chance at a title most certainly requires four victories in the playoffs over LeBron, and for many, this mission proves too difficult.
I wanted to find the players who faced the final boss the most, who, in a dimension where LeBron didn’t become a superstar, they may have beaten this impossible game. In doing that, I stumbled on the playoff career of Jeff Teague.
Across three different seasons and playoff series, Teague went 0-12 against LeBron. No opponent lost more games without a single win, per Basketball Reference, with Delon Wright one loss behind. Not even Michael Jordan managed this level of targeted playoff bullying. His most lopsided margin stands at 7-0 against Jon Koncak.
Each of Teague’s playoff series losses fall into the stereotypical Hades structure.
The Misplaced Confidence
Atlanta entered the 2014-15 NBA Playoffs as the top seed. Four of the Hawks —Teague, Al Horford, Kyle Korver, and Paul Millsap—all made the All Star game that season, a historical oddity that’s only occurred eight times in NBA history. Teague averaged 15.9 points and 7 assists for the 60-win team, and the Hawks beat the Nets and Wizards in consecutive six game series.
In Hades terms, Jeff Teague collected the right boons, got through the lesser bosses, and maintained his death defiances. He maximized his chances for finally knocking off the final boss, but LeBron laughs at your hubris.
Media members at the time predicted a tight and competitive series. SB Nation‘s writers all saw the Hawks winning at least two games, and two predicted the Hawks to win it all.
Cleveland stole back home field advantage with an 8 point Game 1 victory in Atlanta and followed that with a 12 point Game 2 beatdown.
In Game 3, Teague missed a game winner at the buzzer, and the game went to OT.
Atlanta took the lead late on a beautiful Teague step-back triple with 55 seconds left, only for LeBron to fully weaponize. James nailed a corner three to put the Cavs up one with 36 seconds in the game. He extended the league with a beautiful, bruising layup at 0:13.
Shelvin Mack missed two chances to tie the game, and a defeated Hawks team barely showed up for the series-clinching, 30 point Game 4 loss.
Never miss the killshot on a boss that replenishes health.
Breaking your Controller
Atlanta went from 60 to 48 wins and four All-Stars to just two, and went into the playoffs as the four seed in the East. They met Cleveland in the semifinal, but unlike the prior season, the Cavaliers owned all of the expert consensus. Just look at the uniformity of the ESPN experts.
LeBron and the Cavs ran over Teague and his Hawks. Cleveland blew Atlanta out in the first three games by an average margin of 16.3 points. Atlanta let the lesser boss take them out in a Game 2 blowout, giving up a then NBA record 25 three pointers to the Cavs, including 7 to J.R. Smith.
Teague took this flimsy Hades combat/boss battle metaphor a bit too literally in the final moments of Game 3, knocking LeBron into the crowd and earning a flagrant foul.
In the clinching Game 4, Teague mustered only 5 points. He watched his backup Dennis Schröder play all of crunch time. The Hawks lost by one point, and LeBron ended another Jeff Teague playoff run.
DOOMED FROM THE START
Each time your character Zagreus starts his escape attempt, a power-up awaits him at the first stage. These rewards might let you electrify enemies or turn your bow explosive, but they can also fly completely against your style or skillset. You continue to battle but visualize the shorter ceiling for that playthrough.
Teague’s doomed run arrived after leaving Atlanta for the Indiana Pacers.
Indiana ended the year two games above 0.500 and snuck into the Eastern playoffs as the seventh seed. They drew the defending champion Cavaliers in the first round.. An exasperated Teague watched LeBron knock him out of the playoffs in two straight seasons, all without a single win, and hoped that a change of scenery and teammates could snap the streak.
Teague and the Pacers fought valiantly. Despite losing the first three games, Indiana hung around and put a scare into Cleveland, with a total point differential of only twelve points.
According to CBS Sports, Teague guaranteed an end to his unfulfilling streak after the Game 3 defeat:
Teague, however, is determined to make sure that streak doesn’t get to 0-12 with a third straight sweep. He guaranteed a Pacers victory in Game 4. “We playing for pride now,” Teague said after the Game 3 loss. “We all competitors in here, we all believe in one another. We ain’t getting swept.”
Like another splendid Hades character, Achilles, Teague’s pride led to his downfall. Once again, Indiana kept things close, but Cleveland won Game 4 by four points. LeBron chipped in 33 of his own to finish the series sweep and increase his personal playoff record against Teague to 12-0.
ONE LAST RUN
The game’s not over just yet.
Teague joined the Boston Celtics for this upcoming season as a backup point guard behind Kemba Walker. Boston boasts a young and dynamic team with championship aspirations. If the Celtics manage to win the East, they may just meet LeBron’s Lakers in the Finals. Teague would get a fourth crack at the final boss, an opportunity to finally knock off the zero on his side of the ledger.
Hades brings fun and humor and joy in every run, even if you stumble before beating that last enemy. Polygon named it their game of the year. In a brutal year of pandemic misery, this perfect gaming experience provides the ideal escape. You have fun fighting and dying, even if you never make the final stage.
Yet, sometimes you just really want to get that damn win. After thirteen seasons, and twelve straight playoff losses, we’ll find out soon if Jeff Teague can finally beat the final boss.