MIAMI (AP) — The last game of Mike Budenholzer’s long tenure as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs was in Miami.
His first game as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks brought him full circle.
Budenholzer made his debut of sorts as coach of the Hawks on Monday night, when his team opened the preseason against the Heat — some 3½ months after his last game with the Spurs took place on the same court where Miami won Game 7 of the NBA Finals to wrap up its second straight title.
Pulling up to the same arena where San Antonio’s bid for a fifth title was thwarted brought Budenholzer’s mind back to his former job.
“It definitely has gone through my mind a couple times, as we arrived and looking at the schedule,” Budenholzer said before the game, which the Hawks lost 92-87. “It’s pretty unique. It was a unique experience to be in the Finals. I’ll cherish that. And now to have my first opportunity to be a head coach and have our first preseason game here, there is something unique about that.”
Budenholzer spent 19 seasons in San Antonio, 17 as an assistant and the last six of those as the top one on coach Gregg Popovich’s staff. The Hawks announced his hiring in May, while the Spurs were making their run to the Finals.
Budenholzer said he’ll continue using Popovich as a resource.
“I will definitely call him more,” Budenholzer said. “He’ll be on speed dial. He’s been a great resource for me so far, and he’ll continue to be. He’s had a huge influence on me. I’m lucky to have him pick up my calls.”
Atlanta is 2-10 against the Heat since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up in Miami in 2010, and Budenholzer said opening the preseason against the reigning champions would be a good sign of where the Hawks are with three weeks left until the games count for real.
“It is great to play a team that is really disciplined defensively and is really efficient offensively,” Budenholzer said. “You are tested. To play a team of this caliber is a great opportunity for us.”