The Atlanta Hawks couldn’t wait to get back to basketball after two executives garnered headlines for the wrong reasons during the offseason – but they started off on the wrong foot on the road.
They’ll look to win their home opener for the eighth time in nine years Saturday night against the Indiana Pacers in a playoff rematch.
The Hawks opened with a 109-102 loss Wednesday at Toronto but are hoping for a fresh beginning at home after a controversial offseason. A new court, scoreboard and uniforms were among the changes made to try to distance the franchise from racially offensive comments from co-owner Bruce Levenson and general manager Danny Ferry.
Ferry reportedly referred to Luol Deng as having "a little African in him" during a June conference call and added "And I don’t say that in a bad way, other than he is a guy who will do something behind you." He has since taken a leave of absence, while Levenson – who self-reported an e-mail that stereotyped the team’s African-American fans – is selling his majority share of the franchise.
Saturday’s contest is sold out and CEO Steve Koonin said he’s hoping for a Philips Arena attendance record.
"It’s exciting," Al Horford said. "You definitely want to come out and have a good showing for our fans and let them know that we’re here to play hard and show them that we have a good team and show them how we want to play."
Horford had 12 points and 13 rebounds Wednesday in his first game since he was lost for the season on Dec. 26 with a torn pectoral.
Atlanta cut the deficit to four points with 1:26 left after a 15-2 run but never came any closer.
Kyle Korver and Mike Scott each scored 20, going 6 of 7 and 4 of 6 from 3-point range, respectively. Jeff Teague also scored 20 on 8-of-12 shooting as the Hawks shot 50.0 percent from the field and held the Raptors to 41.1 percent shooting.
Turnovers could again be an issue for Atlanta, which committed 17 after committing 15.3 per game last season – the seventh-highest rate in the NBA. The Hawks were 9 of 17 from the free-throw line – a letdown given their 78.1 percent free-throw shooting last season.
The Pacers (1-1), who knocked off Atlanta 4-3 in an Eastern Conference quarterfinal, lost 97-89 to Memphis on Friday. They were outscored 33-14 in the third quarter after leading 53-45 at halftime and gave up a 26-2 run at one point.
Indiana was led by reserve Chris Copeland’s 16 points, but he was 5 for 14 while the starting backcourt of C.J. Miles and Donald Sloan went a combined 10 of 23. The Pacers committed 18 turnovers with six coming in the third quarter.
"They, as a veteran team, a playoff team, they stepped up their pressure," Miles said. "That’s what good teams do. Play like that comes with experience. We’re a team that needs to figure that out."
Roy Hibbert was 4 of 9 for eight points after scoring 22 in Wednesday’s 103-91 victory over Philadelphia. He averaged just 5.3 points and shot 37.2 percent in the playoff series versus Atlanta.
The Hawks had won 12 straight regular-season home games versus Indiana prior to an 89-85 loss on Feb. 4.