Finally, the horn sounded.
That first victory as an NBA head coach was his.
Al Horford had 22 points and 16 rebounds, three other Atlanta starters scored in double figures and the Hawks won their home opener, defeating the Toronto Raptors 102-95 on Friday to give Budenholzer a night to remember.
"It's a good feeling," he said. "But I mostly feel good for our group because of how hard they've worked for the entire coaching staff. Just the energy, the effort, the focus and intensity they bring every day, that's gives me a good feeling. To go out and get the win, that's icing on the cake."
The Hawks built an 18-point lead late in the third quarter, then held off a Raptors comeback in the final period. Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver had 17 points apiece, while Paul Millsap added 15.
"They made me really sweat there at the end," quipped Budenholzer, a long-time assistant in San Antonio.
When the Hawks finally finished it off, the rookie coach gave a quick wave to Raptors counterpart Dwane Casey, hugged Elton Brand and headed to the locker room with a big smile.
The Raptors lost despite 31 points from DeMar DeRozan, including 23 over the final two quarters.
"DeMar came in the second half and did a great job," Casey said.
The Hawks stemmed the rally with a crucial sequence. Horford scored on a running hook in the lane, Toronto's Amir Johnson missed an easy putback, and the home team took off running. Teague found Millsap all alone under the basket, and he held up long enough to lay it in and draw a foul. Even though Millsap missed the free throw, Atlanta led 93-84 with 3:22 remaining.
The Raptors never got any closer than six points the rest of the way.
Atlanta has undergone a massive makeover during the last two summers, leaving Horford and Teague as the only players who have been with the team more than two seasons. This year, the Hawks added a new coach as well.
Seven of the 12 players who suited up Friday were making their home debuts in an Atlanta uniform, prompting one season-ticket holder sitting behind press row to remark, "I don't know who half these guys are."
But the fans liked what they he saw, especially in the second half as the Hawks built a 70-52 lead.
DeRozan hit 14 of 23 from the field, nearly bringing the Raptors all the way back. Kyle Lowry scored 16 points, Rudy Gay 14 and Johnson 13.
Horford carried the Hawks at both ends of the court and Teague ran the offence just the way Budenholzer wants, dishing out 12 assists and committing only one turnover.
Budenholzer was especially impressed with Horford, who is now the face of the franchise after all that turnover. The centre is still getting used to the new motion offence and had just 11 points in a 118-109 loss at Dallas to open the season.
Horford looked a lot more comfortable against the Raptors.
"He put us on his shoulders," Budenholzer said. "He scored a lot of different ways. He was really decisive in making his decisions and making his moves."
The Raptors were coming off a 93-87 victory over Boston in their home opener. Toronto fell short in the bid for its first 2-0 start since 2008.
After letting the Mavericks run wild, Atlanta limited the Raptors to just eight fast-break points.
Neither team led by more than four points until the Hawks suddenly broke off a quick spurt in the final minute of the first half. Cartier Martin knocked down a 3-pointer, Pero Antic also connected from beyond the arc and Teague finished it off with a thunderous dunk as the clock wound down, sending Atlanta to the locker room with a 49-39 lead.
"That 2-minute stretch at the end of the first half killed us," Lowry said.
NOTES: Korver extended his 3-point streak to 75 regular-season games, finishing 5 of 8 from beyond the arc to keep up the longest active run in the league. ... Raptors F Steve Novak woke up with a sore back and did not dress. ... The announced attendance was 18,118, supposedly a sellout, though there were thousands of empty seats in Philips Arena.
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