Al Horford laughed at the notion he has extra motivation to face the Hawks Monday after he was booed in Atlanta last month.
Horford spent his first nine NBA seasons with the Hawks. He signed with the Celtics as an unrestricted free agent when the reality of sports business hit home for the first time. The first meeting of current and former team came on Jan. 13 in Atlanta. Horford, the four-time All-Star center, was booed during introductions and every time he touched the ball by the Philips Arena crowd. There was a brief moment of reconciliation when he received a standing ovation during a tribute video. Then the boos resumed.
“It’s a lot different,” Horford said from the Celtics locker room Monday. “Not because they are coming here but because we already played them. You can put all that anticipation behind of we haven’t seen each other since I came to join the Celtics in the summer. It was just another game then but now it’s really just another game.
“At the end of the day this is real. The sports business in competitive. You can’t get caught up in little things. You have to focus on the bigger picture.”
In a new city and a new role, Horford continues to play a big role in the Celtics’ success. They are second in the Eastern Conference with a 38-21 record. Horford is averaging 14.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists. He no longer shoots a lot of mid-range jump shots, his bread and butter in Atlanta. He can be found near the 3-point line, creating space and passing to a number of Celtics shooters.
“I’m way more out in the perimeter, out in the 3(-point line) hanging out, away from the rim,” Horford said. “There are times when I’m in the block area but it’s for post-ups not for mid-range shots. It’s very scarce the number of mid-range shots I’m taking.”
Before the game Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer praised the passing ability of the big man. That much about his game remains the same in Boston.
“It hasn’t changed but in Atlanta Coach Bud he used to put me in position to make plays,” Horford said. “I just think that here a lot of the offense initiates with the bigs. When you have guys like Isaiah (Thomas) and Jae (Crowder) who are shooting lights out, it makes you look good, right?”
There will be one more meeting between the teams – back in Atlanta. The Celtics visit on April 6.
“It’s always good to catch up on a lot of friendships I built over there over the years,” Horford said. “Coaches, assistants, see all the guys. But that’s that. It’s also a chance for us to compete against a really good team that is fighting for their playoff lives, the same as we are.”