It can be frustrating to start the season on the road. Having to sit through the home team’s home-opener celebrations can be a drain before the game even begins. While the Atlanta Hawks lost their season opener against the Toronto Raptors 109-102 Wednesday night, center Al Horford was just thankful to be back in uniform. Playing in his first game since tearing his pectoral muscle last year, Horford had been sidelined since having surgery last December.
“I [felt] okay,” Horford said “I was a little winded at times and offensively I couldn’t really get into a rhythm, [but] then I started to feel better. That’s something I’ll just have to work through. On defense I was very pleased. I thought I played well. We just have to keep improving as a team.”
Horford played 31 minutes against the Raptors. He missed some open shots he normally makes, but finished with 12 points (on 6-for-15 shooting) and grabbed 13 rebounds to go with three assists, three blocks and a steal.
Atlanta head coach Mike Budenholzer knows it will take some time for Horford to shake off the rust and get into regular-season game shape, but is very happy to have his All-Star back. In addition to Horford’s numbers (he averaged 18.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game before his injury last year), the team welcomes back his leadership.
“He has such a presence and such poise at all times,” Budenholzer said. “When everybody’s excited, I think he can calm us. And when times are hard he can calm us. He’s a good balance for me, he’s a good balance for the whole group. When he speaks, people listen.”
Although the Hawks’ system remains the same regardless of which five players are on the court, having Horford back helps Atlanta on both ends of the floor.
“He’s working to expand his range and, he’s always a threat,” Budenholzer said. “He can go up and get the ball above the rim, he can score on a catch-and-go, he’s just so versatile.”
Horford’s presence extends beyond the court, too.
“It means everything [to have him back],” Hawks forward Mike Scott said. “He’s our leader, our captain and an inside post. He’s a presence on the defensive and offensive end.
“He leads us, he gives advice to young guys like myself. He’s a great leader and a great person.”