al horford

Al Horford returns to Atlanta for first time wearing Boston jersey

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ATLANTA (AP) — Al Horford knows this won’t be just another game tonight.

The four-time All-Star is returning to Philips Arena for the first time with a new team, and many are still adjusting to the fact that he no longer plays for the Atlanta Hawks.

After nine seasons as a franchise cornerstone, Horford left for Boston as a free agent last summer, signing a four-year, $113 million contract.

But a big part of the big center will always be in the Deep South. He hopes his impact with everyone in Atlanta was positive.

“I always tried to be a guy that plays hard and was committed to giving his all, on and off the court,” Horford said Friday. “So that’s something I’m really proud of.”

Horford led Florida to back-to-back national championships before the Hawks drafted him No. 3 overall in 2007. He helped Atlanta make the playoffs each season he was with the franchise, but the team only got close to the NBA Finals once, in 2015. The Hawks won 60 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time.

They were swept by Cleveland each of the last two years, and coach Mike Budenholzer has remade the roster. Kyle Korver now plays for Cleveland, Jeff Teague for Indiana and DeMarre Carroll for Toronto.

The Hawks have rebuilt around Atlanta native Dwight Howard, an eight-time All-Star center, and point guard Dennis Schroder. The overhaul continues to be a work in process with just four players with double-digit scoring averages and the team lacks consistent perimeter shooting.

“It really has changed fast,” Horford said. “That just shows us what the NBA business can be like sometimes. That’s just the way it is. All you can do is embrace those times that you had here and accept these new challenges that we’re in.”

In his first game against the Hawks, Horford said he expects some mixed emotions, but hopes to settle down after a pregame video tribute. There’s plenty at stake tonight with Boston third and Atlanta fourth in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics have won five of six and the Hawks seven in a row.

Horford keeps up with some of his former teammates and wishes them well.

“It’s a team that’s gone through its ups and downs, but I feel like they’ve found a really good rhythm right now,” he said. “They’re playing really well. Dennis has impressed me a lot, the way that he’s been playing and leading the team. Paul (Millsap) being as consistent as he is, and Tim (Hardaway Jr.) is really impressive off the bench.”

Horford said many times over the years that he wanted to spend his entire career with the Hawks, but when they wouldn’t match Boston’s offer, his decision was easy.

“I think for me individually it was the right decision,” Horford said. “It takes time to adjust to a new team, a new city and everything, but my teammates and coach have made my transition very easy.”

Boston guard Isaiah Thomas credits Horford with helping him get off to the best start of his six-year career. Thomas is averaging 28.2 points, tied for fourth-best in the league. Horford is averaging 15.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists.

“He helps me out because he puts me in position,” Thomas said. “He sets really good screens for me to get me open and he also is a hell of a passer, so when he gets the ball in situations where I’m on the opposite side, he usually finds me. I think that’s what making me have a pretty good year as well.”

Thomas said the Celtics intend to get Horford a win Friday night.

“He hasn’t brought it up to us,” Thomas said. “That’s just the type of person he is. Everything is the same for him.”

Horford likes to keep it that way. He’s ready to put this game behind him.

“It’s a little different, but I think probably tonight I’m sure it will be more surreal for me,” Horford said. “Right now it’s just a shoot-around and it feels very normal.”

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.

Raptors’ ‘culture reset’ shines in Game 5 win over Wizards

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The Raptors promoted ball movement. They emphasized 3-point shooting. They empowered their reserves.

This was why.

Backups Delon Wright and C.J. Miles and starting center Jonas Valanciunas – who was benched in previous postseasons due to his old-fashioned style, but expanded his game beyond the arc this year – scored Toronto’s final 18 points in a 108-98 Game 5 win over the Wizards on Wednesday. Stars DeMar DeRozan (0-for-4 from the field) and Kyle Lowry (0-for-1 from the field, 0-for-2 on free throws) struggled down the stretch, as the Raptors burst open what had been a one-point lead.

Though DeRozan (32 points) and Lowry (17 points and 10 assists) were good overall, they succumbed late in previous playoff games. Toronto didn’t want that duo stuck with the burden of creating so much in a stagnate offense.

Hence, Masai Ujiri’s famous “culture reset.”

The results have been mixed so far against a tougher-than-average-eight-seed Washington. But at least the Raptors – up 3-2 entering Friday’s Game 6 in Washington – are on the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

Raptors honor victims of van attack before Game 5 (photos)

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TORONTO (AP) — The Toronto Raptors honored the victims the deadly van attack Monday with a moment of silence Wednesday night before Game 5 of their playoff series against the Washington Wizards.

Players from both teams held up banners with the hashtag #TORONTOSTRONG as they stood on the court during the tribute and the national anthems that followed:

The Raptors, the Wizards and the NBA will make a donation to a fund for victims and those affected by the incident.

Raptors President Masai Ujiri spoke about the attack after the Raptors practiced Tuesday.

“What we do doesn’t really matter sometimes,” Ujiri said. “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be on that sidewalk.”

Guard Kyle Lowry said he was impressed by the actions of Const. Ken Lam, who earned international acclaim for peacefully arresting of suspect Alek Minassian.

“In America he would definitely have been shot up,” Lowry said. “He did an amazing job of making a judgment call. I think more people could learn from that.”

Coach Dwane Casey was struck by how close the carnage occurred to his own Toronto neighborhood,

“It’s not too far from up the street from where I live,” Casey said.

Casey and his coaches were in the midst of a meeting Monday afternoon when assistant Rex Kalamian’s phone buzzed with someone informing him of the tragedy. The coaches stopped their meeting and turned on a television to find out what had happened.

“It’s very unfortunate,” Casey said. “Just this weekend I was talking to people saying how safe Toronto is, how it’s a melting pot and you don’t have the same crime. Hopefully though, sport can offer a relief, some reprieve.”

Like Casey, Ujiri said he is proud of Toronto’s reputation as a safe, welcoming place.

“Everywhere I go, I brag about this city,” Ujiri said. “It’s the safest place in the world. It’s the best city in the world and it’s going to continue to be the best place and the best city in the world.”

Toronto police said the 10 people killed and 14 injured in the attack were “predominantly” women, but have declined so far to discuss a motive. The 25-year-old Minassian has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.