Boston Celtics
Streaking Hawks face Horford, Celtics (Jan 13, 2017)
Boston Celtics

Streaking Hawks face Horford, Celtics (Jan 13, 2017)

Published Jan. 12, 2017 9:19 p.m. ET

ATLANTA -- Al Horford's return to Atlanta with the Boston Celtics to face the Hawks for the first time isn't the only storyline to Friday night's game.

The Hawks, seemingly in teardown mode only a week or so ago after trading guard Kyle Korver, have won seven in a row to regain first place in the Southeast Division and are no longer listening to trade offers for forward Paul Millsap.

Millsap and Horford, who left during the summer to sign with the Celtics as a free agent, were cornerstones of a team that won 60 games two seasons ago, but it appeared both would be gone when the Hawks lost 10 of 11 games and rumors of a dismantling started to swirl.

The Hawks, though, notified other teams early this week that they planned to hold on to Millsap, a pending free agent, and the turnaround has left Atlanta (22-16) just behind Boston (24-15) for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference.


"I think him staying a part of this group and pushing forward this year is important to us," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

"It's a sigh of relief to know that nothing is going to happen," said Millsap, who is averaging 17.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists. "I can focus on basketball, focus on getting this team to the playoffs and, hopefully, get a championship."

By not trading Millsap, though, the Hawks risk losing him to free agency after the season and getting nothing in return. That is what happened with Horford, who spent the first nine seasons of his NBA career in Atlanta and made the All-Star Game four times like Millsap.

"It will be different for me, you know the first time going back, but I'm looking forward to it," Horford said.

Horford is averaging 15.3 points, 6.9 records and 4.9 assists for his new team. It will be interesting to see the reaction from Hawks fans at Phillips Arena.

"I realize it is (a big deal) ... (but) my approach is the same," he said. "I'm going to prepare the same. I'm going to do the tings I'm going to do. It's a new experience for me, but I have a job to do here with our team."

Millsap hopes that Horford will be appreciated for what he went to Atlanta and the Hawks but that the Celtics don"t leave as winners.

"Al is a good basketball player, but, more importantly on top of that, he is a great guy off the court," Millsap said. "He did a lot in the community. He is a good friend to a lot of us. He is sadly missed. He is with a good team. It's going to be good to see him come to Atlanta and play. Fans are excited about it. We are excited about it."

It will be the third game in four nights over three cities for the Celtics. The Hawks have been off since a victory at Brooklyn on Tuesday.

The Celtics were without five players but still won for the fifth time in six games on Wednesday against Washington at home.

Guard Isaiah Thomas, averaging 28.2 points per game, had 38 against the Wizards and has scored at least 20 points in each of the past 23 games.

"He's been playing as impressive as I've seen someone play," Horford said.

Guard Avery Bradley, Boston's second-leading scorer at 18 points per game, has been sidelined because of a strained right Achilles' tendon, and forward Amir Johnson missed the Washington game with a sprained ankle.

Guard Mike Dunleavy Jr., acquired from Cleveland as part of the return for Korver, will be in uniform as a Hawk for the first time against the Celtics.

It won't be a normal Atlanta uniform, though. The team will wear blue and lime green throwbacks from the early 1970s.


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