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Diaz homers during 7th-inning rally, Rays beat Braves 7-5

Diaz homers during 7th-inning rally, Rays beat Braves 7-5

Yandy Diaz homered during a four-run rally in the seventh inning and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Atlanta Braves 7-5By CHARLES ODUM AP Sports WriterJuly 18, 2021, 9:54 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleATLANTA — Tampa Bay is making the most of its knack for comebacks to stay close in the AL East.Yandy Diaz homered during a four-run rally in the seventh inning and the Rays beat the Atlanta Braves 7-5 on Sunday.The Rays trailed 3-0 after four innings and 4-3 before completing their 28th come-from-behind win to win two of three in the series. It is the second-most comeback wins in the majors to the 29 by the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox with 29, the team Tampa Bay is chasing.“There’s no quit in us,” said Kevin Kiermaier, whose double in the seventh tied the game at 4. “Just don’t ever count us out, no matter what, until that 27th out is made.”Kiermaier said he’d like to see the Rays start stronger in games to boost their chances of catching Boston.“We’d much rather get out to a quicker start but that’s just kind of how it’s been as of late,” Kiermaier said. “It takes a few more innings for us to get our momentum going.”Kiermaier caught a long drive by Dansby Swanson before crashing into the center-field wall to end the fourth. He also stole a base.The Braves (45-47) have not been above .500 this season but trail the first-place New York Mets by only four games in the NL East.“I still feel like we’re capable of winning the division, honestly,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We’re in it till we’re out of it. … I’m still waiting to get on a run.”Joey Wendle singled and scored on Kiermaier’s double off A.J. Minter (1-4) to tie it at 4 in the seventh. After Kiermaier stole third base, Austin Meadows’ sacrifice fly to gave Tampa Bay the lead.Diaz added to the lead with his two-run homer off Luke Jackson.“That’s two big wins we pulled out of here,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We just collectively as a group came back.”Wander Franco’s third homer in the sixth off Braves starter Drew Smyly made it 3-all.Tampa Bay starter Rich Hill allowed three runs in four innings. Left-hander Jeffrey Springs (5-1) gave up one hit while recording two outs. Pete Fairbanks pitched the ninth for his fifth save, including two in the series.Ozzie Albies doubled home Freddie Freeman in the first to put Atlanta ahead 1-0.The Braves added two runs in the fourth. Guillermo Heredia hit an RBI double and following an infield hit by Smyly when Hill didn’t cover first base, Joc Pederson’s bases-loaded groundout drove in a run for a 3-0 lead.Meadows’ sacrifice fly drove in one run in Tampa Bay’s two-run fifth. Brandon Lowe led off the inning with a single and scored from third on a wild pitch from Smyly.Pederson, traded to Atlanta from the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, drove in two runs with two hits in his second start as the Braves’ right fielder and leadoff hitter.TRAINER’S ROOMCash said RHP Chris Archer (right forearm tightness) showed encouraging velocity in Saturday’s minor league rehabilitation appearance for Triple-A Durham. Archer allowed two runs on three hits in 1 2/3 innings. He had two strikeouts. “He had a good fastball, good velocity … and he showed a slider at times that was a Chris Archer slider.”VOGT SHINES IN DEBUTVeteran catcher Stephen Vogt, acquired by Atlanta from the Arizona Diamondbacks late Friday night for minor league first baseman Mason Berne, drove in a run and got three hits in his Braves debut. He also threw out Franco trying to steal second in the seventh.BULLPEN GRINDAtlanta’s second blown lead of the series again left the spotlight on the bullpen. Minter gave up a run while walking two batters in Friday night’s 7-6 loss in 10 innings. He allowed two runs on two hits while recording only one out on Sunday, leaving his ERA at 4.86.“I look there’s big chunks he’s been really, really good, too,” Snitker said. “… It’s not just him. It’s tough and he’s going through the grind right now.”UP NEXTRays: LHP Ryan Yarbrough (6-3, 4.30) will try to extend his streak of 12 appearances, including nine starts, without a loss when the Rays open a home series against the Baltimore Orioles on Monday night. Yarbrough’s last loss came on April 30 against Houston.Braves: Rookie LHP Kyle Muller (1-2, 3.45) is expected to be recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett to start when Atlanta opens a three-game series against Yu Darvish (7-3, 3.09) and the San Diego Padres on Monday night.———More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Pederson hits 2-run HR as Fried, Braves shut out Rays 9-0

Pederson hits 2-run HR as Fried, Braves shut out Rays 9-0

Joc Pederson hit a two-run homer in his first start with Atlanta, Max Fried had a two-run double among three hits while throwing seven dominant innings, and the Braves shut out the Tampa Bay Rays 9-0By CHARLES ODUM AP Sports WriterJuly 18, 2021, 2:48 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleATLANTA — Joc Pederson hit a two-run homer in his first start with Atlanta, Max Fried had a two-run double among three hits while throwing seven dominant innings, and the Braves shut out the Tampa Bay Rays 9-0 on Saturday night.Fried (7-5) did not allow a baserunner to reach second. The left-hander gave up four hits with one walk and had seven strikeouts. Fried’s career-high three hits included the two-run double in a six-run fourth inning.“The dude rakes!” Pederson said of Fried. “… He had some pretty swings, too. It wasn’t luck.”Fried is hitting .333. When it was suggested he is making hitting look easy, Fried said, “Hitting is one of the hardest things to do in sports. I just had a really good night.”Pederson, acquired in a trade with the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, hit leadoff and started in right field, filling roles held by Ronald Acuña Jr. before his season-ending knee injury on July 10.Pederson had two hits, including an infield single to a vacant third base against the Rays’ defensive shift in the eighth.“He’s electric,” Fried said of Pederson. “He obviously has a lot of thunder in his bat and puts together good at-bats.”Pederson’s homer landed in the Braves’ bullpen behind the right-center wall. It was the highlight of a six-run fourth inning off Rays left-hander Josh Fleming (7-5).“You see what the guy can do,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He can hit good pitching.”The big hits by Pederson and Fried in the fourth were made possible when umpires declined to overturn a ground-rule double by Guillermo Heredia that landed near the right-field line. The Rays asked for the review to determine if the ball landed fair or foul.Fried had a game-winning, pinch-hit single in the 10th inning of an 8-7 win over Miami on July 4.“Fried had a pretty good day all around, at the plate and on the mound,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “That was impressive.”Freddie Freeman added to the lead with his 21st homer off Fleming in the fifth. Fleming gave up seven runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings.Fleming blamed “inconsistency with my sinker” for his struggles in the fourth. “Left too many over the plate,” he said.Edgar Santana and Tyler Matzek each pitched one inning behind Fried to finish the combined four-hit shutout.One day after trading for Pederson, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos stayed active by acquiring catcher Stephen Vogt from Arizona following Friday night’s game. Vogt was in uniform but did not appear in the game.TRAINER’S ROOMBraves C Jonathan Lucroy was designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Vogt, who will share time with Kevan Smith. Snitker said the goal is to “piece this thing together” until starter Travis d’Arnaud (torn ligaments, left thumb) returns from the injured list, possibly by mid-August. Snitker said d’Arnaud’s rehabilitation is “going well.” Lucroy appeared in only two games with Atlanta following his recall from Triple-A Gwinnett on July 7.VERSATILE ROOKIETampa Bay rookie Wander Franco made his first start at second base after playing shortstop and third base in his first 16 games.“We certainly are appreciative of his versatility and will continue to try to use that,” Cash said, adding he sees Franco as “just a real special player.”NEW LOOKSnitker juggled his lineup with Dansby Swanson and Freeman hitting second and third, respectively. Freeman moved down one spot in the lineup. Swanson had a run-scoring double off J.P. Feyereisen in the sixth.SAVING THE BULLPENCash used catcher Francisco Mejia to pitch the ninth and protect his bullpen. Mejia allowed one hit in a scoreless inning.Speaking through a translator, Mejia said Cash “came up to me and asked if I’ve ever pitched and I said no, but I’d be willing to go and I can throw strikes. That was the first time I’ve pitched in my life.”UP NEXTAtlanta’s Drew Smyly will face Tampa Bay’s Rich Hill in a matchup of veteran left-handers in Sunday’s final game of the weekend series. Hill is 5-0 with a 1.74 ERA in nine career appearances, including seven starts, against the Braves.———More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Meadows' RBI single in 10th lifts Tampa Bay past Braves 7-6

Meadows' RBI single in 10th lifts Tampa Bay past Braves 7-6

ATLANTA — Austin Meadows and the Tampa Bay Rays keep finding ways to rally for wins.Meadows singled in the 10th inning to score Brett Phillips from second base with the tiebreaking run, and the Rays beat the Atlanta Braves 7-6 on Friday night.After trailing 6-4, the Rays pulled even in the eighth. Meadows, an Atlanta native, had an RBI single during the two-run rally.“That’s just kind of the Rays’ way,” Meadows said. “We never quit and we’re never down.”Meadows drove in three runs with two hits.“Meadows really picked us up in a big way,” manager Kevin Cash said. “The eighth inning … he really came through and then he came through again.”It was Tampa Bay’s 27th come-from-behind win, the second-most in the majors behind Boston’s 29. The Rays remained 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Red Sox in the AL East.With Phillips opening the 10th on second base, right-hander Jesse Chavez (0-2) walked Brandon Lowe before recording two outs. Chavez then gave up Meadows’ go-ahead single to right field, as Phillips slid across the plate and beat Abraham Almonte’s throw.Freddie Freeman had four hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth. Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson also hit home runs for Atlanta.Ji-Man Choi’s homer to lead off Tampa Bay’s fifth, an opposite-field shot he sliced just inside the left field foul pole, tied the game at 3-3.Matt Wisler (1-1) had three strikeouts while allowing one hit in two scoreless innings. Pete Fairbanks pitched the 10th for his fourth save.Charlie Morton, who won a combined 18 games for Tampa Bay the last two seasons before signing with Atlanta, allowed three runs on six hits and three walks in six innings. He had eight strikeouts.The Braves’ bullpen gave up four runs.“You score six runs and you should win, really,” manager Brian Snitker said.The Rays tied the game at 6-6 in the eighth with two runs off Chris Martin. Joey Wendle’s infield hit drove in Wander Franco, who singled, from third base with the tying run.After Rays starter Michael Wacha gave up a single to Almonte to start the bottom of the fifth, Freeman pulled a fastball from J.P Feyereisen over the right-field wall for his 20th homer and a 5-3 lead.Wacha allowed four runs on five hits, including two homers, and two walks in four-plus innings.Outfielder Joe Pederson, acquired from the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, did not arrive in Atlanta in time to be included in the lineup. He was activated and grounded out as a pinch-hitter in the 10th to end the game.NEW CATCHAbout two hours after the game ended, the injury-depleted Braves announced they had acquired veteran catcher Stephen Vogt from the Arizona Diamondbacks for minor league first baseman Mason Berne.The 36-year-old Vogt, a two-time All-Star with Oakland, batted .212 with five homers and 17 RBIs in 52 games for the major league-worst Diamondbacks this season. He has thrown out 10 of 30 runners attempting to steal.Atlanta has struggled to replace injured catcher Travis d’Arnaud with the likes of Kevan Smith, William Contreras and Jonathan Lucroy.Berne, 25, was 3 for 12 (.250) with a home run in five games with the FCL Braves this season.TRAINER’S ROOMRays: RHP Nick Anderson threw batting practice in Port Charlotte, Florida, for the first time since being told in March he has a partially torn ligament in his right elbow. Cash said Anderson threw his fastball at 90-93 mph. “He came away from it feeling really good,” Cash said. … RHP Chris Archer (right forearm tightness) is scheduled to make a minor league rehab start on Saturday.Braves: RHP Touki Toussaint (right shoulder) was reinstated from the 60-day injured list and could make his 2021 debut on Tuesday against San Diego. … RHP Ian Anderson (right shoulder inflammation) was placed on the 10-day IL. He won’t throw for seven to 10 days and then will be evaluated. … INF Johan Camargo was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett to clear a roster spot for Pederson.HOMECOMINGMeadows, from Grayson High School in metro Atlanta, was playing before friends and family in his first major league game in his hometown.“It was cool,” he said. “Being able to see them in the stands it was just a little adrenaline pump. You just want to do good, especially this being my first time playing here.”LEADOFF JOCSnitker said Pederson likely will hit leadoff.The Braves lost right fielder Ronald Acuña for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL in his right knee on July 10 in a 5-4 win at Miami. Acuña had been the team’s leadoff hitter and right fielder.The 29-year-old Pederson was batting .230 with 11 homers and 39 RBIs in 73 games with the Cubs. Snitker applauded general manager Alex Anthopoulos for completing the deal quickly.”We had an injury and we addressed it right now, immediately,” Snitker said.UP NEXTBraves LHP Max Fried (6-5, 4.71 ERA) will start in Saturday night’s second game of the series. He allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings in a 2-1 win over the Rays on July 30, 2020, at Truist Park. Josh Fleming (7-4, 3.26) goes for Tampa Bay.———More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Busch brothers closing in on Allisons' record for Cup wins

Busch brothers closing in on Allisons' record for Cup wins

HAMPTON, Ga. — The Busch brothers are banging on the Allisons’ rear bumper for the top spot on the list of NASCAR Cup Series wins by siblings.On Sunday, however, the sibling rivalry between Kurt and Kyle Busch was the story. Thanks to Kurt’s win over runner-up Kyle at Atlanta Motor Speedway, each has two wins in the four Cup races featuring one-two finishes by the brothers.That was a cause for celebration for older brother Kurt, who climbed out of his car and yelled, “Hell yeah, we beat Kyle!”It was a sore subject for Kyle. Kurt said his younger brother dropped by victory lane to “do the Kyle Busch grumpy.”Neither likes losing to the other. It may be especially difficult for Kyle, even though he’s had more NASCAR success.“It’s a little-brother syndrome,” Kurt said. “I’m an older brother. I don’t know what it is to be the younger one. It’s a genuine feel of I’m not trying to push his buttons, but I know that as we’ve gotten older, the stats have stacked in his favor, and I’ve come to agreement with that in my own mind.”Kurt predicted his brother would move past his hurt feelings in a few days. It might help Kyle to be reminded that he and Kurt are closing in on that record for most Cup Series wins by brothers. Bobby Allison (84) and Donnie Allison (10) combined for 94 Cup wins, the record for brothers. The Busch brothers now have 92 — 59 from Kyle and 33 from Kurt.Kurt, 42, wants to make sure he’s still racing when the record falls.“It needs to get done here in the next year or two while I’m still driving,” he said. “They still have that record, but Kyle and I are out here finishing one-two. We can chip away at it and try to get that done.”The last time Kurt beat Kyle in a one-two finish, in Kentucky in 2019, it cost Kurt a seat on Kyle’s plane ride back home to Charlotte. On Sunday, Kurt knew he should arrange his own transportation.“It’s only about four hours back to Charlotte, so it’s not too big of a deal,” Kurt said. “But I’m pretty sure Kyle has already taken off.”Kurt still smiled. He had something better than a ride home.“We’ve got the trophy,” he said. “I ain’t worried about it.”Indeed, the Busch brothers’ sibling rivalry burns strong.“I’ll tell you, the adrenaline gets going, the childhood memories come back,” Kurt said. “The best of the best in this business is in my mirror, and yet I can giggle to myself sometimes and go, ‘Yeah, I taught him everything he knows.’”Kyle gave credit to his big brother as “definitely better than us today.””I thought I had him, and I did, but racing just didn’t play out for us today.”Kurt said the rivalry can be intense.“It’s an awesome, genuine battle between the two of us,” he said. “We’ve had some friction over the years, but as we get older we’ve gotten slightly a bit wiser and we’ve raced each other with a ton of respect on track to almost be teammates, even though we race for different organizations.”The Busch brothers swept the Atlanta weekend races.Kyle won the Xfinity Series race Saturday, his fifth win in five tries this season in the second-tier series, and said he doesn’t plan to return to the series next season.Kurt Busch’s win could provide a boost in his search for a new team. His contract with Chip Ganassi Racing expires at the end of the year, and Ganassi sold the team to Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks this month.Kurt wants to drive one of NASCAR’S new Next Gen cars next year.“It seems to be an owners’ market right now, but for me I’m doing all I can with the Next Gen car on the horizon,” he said. “I’m a racer, and I’ll be a racer through and through. … To drive this Next Gen car, it’s important to me, and I’m going to try to make it work.”———More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Kyle Busch completes 5-for-5 Xfinity sweep Atlanta win

Kyle Busch completes 5-for-5 Xfinity sweep Atlanta win

Kyle Busch completed a 5-for-5 sweep of what might be his final season in the Xfinity Series with a late recovery at Atlanta Motor SpeedwayBy CHARLES ODUM AP Sports WriterJuly 10, 2021, 10:29 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleHAMPTON, Ga. — Kyle Busch completed a 5-for-5 sweep of what might be his final season in the Xfinity Series with a late recovery at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday.Busch finished 0.550 seconds ahead of Jeb Burton for his 102nd Xfinity victory and 222nd overall in NASCAR’s three national series.Busch took the lead after pushing Daniel Hemric on a restart with six laps remaining. Busch appeared to be trying to give Hemric, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, a helpful push on the restart but instead Hemric lost control and hit the wall.“I just wanted to hit him forward and straight but turned him sideways a little bit,” Busch said, adding the incident made the victory “a little somber.”Busch has hinted that this might be his final season in Xfinity. He repeated that plan Saturday, saying he didn’t plan to return to Xfinity “as far as what’s going to happen right now.”Busch added “Never say never, but this is it.”Busch won the first two stages in Atlanta before needing to reclaim the lead following a final restart.One week after Hemric had a runner-up finish to Busch, he was on the verge of his first career win before spinning on a restart when pushed by Busch with six laps remaining.Hemric took the lead on the final stage after Busch won the first two stages.Busch has 102nd Xfinity victories and 222 overall in NASCAR’s three national series.Noah Gragson was third, followed by Justin Haley and Ty Dillon.NASCAR only allows Cup Series drivers, including Busch, to compete in five Xfinity and five Truck Series races each year. Atlanta was Busch’s fifth and final Xfinity event — and fifth win — of 2021.Before the race, Busch tweeted “Let’s go out w one more.” It appeared to be another sign he doesn’t intend to return to the Xfinity Series next season.Busch raced as if determined to make sure he departed Xfinity on top. He raced to the lead from start, led every lap of the first stage and also won the second stage after briefly falling behind Gragson.With 17 laps remaining, Carson Ware’s crash into the wall caused a caution, sending leaders to the pits. On the restart with 11 laps remaining, there was another crash when Kyle Weatherman appeared to lose power and fell back quickly from the lead pack.Busch will start second, behind Chase Elliott, in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series event, the final race before the Atlanta Motor Speedway track is repaved and remodeled.Austin Dillon finished 11th as a late fill-in for Michael Annett, who was unable to drive the No. 1 Chevrolet due to a nagging leg injury. Dillon started at the back of the field. Most NASCAR Cup drivers were not at the track, but Dillon arrived early for Sunday’s race and was available for the substitute role.One of Dillon’s first radio communications was a question asking for the name of his spotter and crew chief.Heat forced C.J. McLaughlin to leave his 66 Toyota about halfway through the final stage.———More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Larson, Elliott eye Atlanta redemption for hot Hendrick team

Larson, Elliott eye Atlanta redemption for hot Hendrick team

HAMPTON, Ga. — Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have extra motivation to extend Hendrick Motorsports’ hot streak to Atlanta Motor Speedway.Larson’s four wins this season lead NASCAR’s top series. Elliott is the defending Cup champion and carries momentum from last week’s victory at Road America, the seventh win in eight races for the powerful four-car team that also includes William Byron and Alex Bowman.But chasing a victory at Atlanta has proved elusive.Larson led 269 of 325 laps and won the first two stages in Atlanta in March before fading late on old tires as Ryan Blaney took an improbable win.Larson watched video of that race this week, hoping to avoid another heartbreaking letdown.“I learned a lot in the moment,” Larson said. “I think there’s even more I can learn re-watching it. … You learn from everything, the good races, and you definitely learn from the races you feel like you gave away. So there’s definitely a lot to be learned.”Elliott, from Dawsonville, Georgia, has never won in six tries on his home track. The spring race was especially frustrating as engine problems left him 38th.Elliott clinched a playoff berth with his second win of the season last week. A first win in Atlanta, where his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, was a five-time champion, would be special.“I don’t know that I feel more pressure, but I certainly want to do good,” Chase Elliott said. “I feel that everybody who has a home track or a place that’s close to them, you always want to do good there, and it’s just been a place I haven’t done all that great at.”Elliott will start on the pole, beside Kyle Busch. The starting lineup was set based on last week’s finish. Larson will start sixth.AIMING FOR AN ATLANTA SWEEPBlaney is still looking for a second 2021 win. He believes his return to Atlanta provides a good measuring stick for his Penske team.“I think this weekend will be a really good idea to see where we stack up, going back to a place where we won,” Blaney said, adding “I think we’ll be good.”REPAVING PROJECT ON DECKFor one final Sunday, NASCAR drivers can enjoy the old, battered Atlanta Motor Speedway track after years of lobbying to delay the inevitable resurfacing project.This will be the last race before the track surface, which is 24 years old, is repaved and remodeled. The changes will bring higher banks and a more narrow racing surface.Drivers who weren’t consulted on plans announced this week say change isn’t good. Some drivers say the tighter turns give more cause for concern than higher banks.Track officials say the resurfacing was inevitable and fans will approve the new look.NEXT GEN RACINGTrack officials say the planned track changes were made with NASCAR’S Next Gen car in mind. Rodney Childers, Stewart-Haas Racing crew chief for Kevin Harvick, said “old-school racers” describe the conditions provided by the old, patched-up track as “good racing.” He acknowledged some fans don’t agree.“A lot of people thought those races down there became boring because the runs became really long, they get spread out, the cars that were good on long runs would drive away from the field and all those things,” Childers said.Childers said the Next Gen car, which debuts next season, is designed “to run wide-open all the way around.””You’ll be drafting a lot and kind of become a speedway race in a way. The cars will stay tightly packed together, probably more wrecks and all those things it seems people want to see these days,” Childers said.ODDS AND ENDSLarson is the 13-5 favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Kyle Busch is at 17-2 and Elliott 10-1. … Five drivers have locked in their spot in the playoffs: Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Busch and Elliott. … Last week’s win was Elliott’s seventh in the last 11 road course races. … Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell, Michael McDowell and Denny Hamlin would clinch a playoff spot with a win at Atlanta. … There is a 58% chance of scattered thunderstorms, according to weather.com. Even with the clouds, heat will be a factor, with an expected high temperature of 84 degrees.———More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

McMillan looking for more success as Hawks' full-time coach

McMillan looking for more success as Hawks' full-time coach

Nate McMillan’s deal as full-time coach of the Atlanta Hawks has been made officialBy CHARLES ODUM AP Sports WriterJuly 8, 2021, 9:52 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleATLANTA — Nate McMillan earned his deal as full-time coach of the Atlanta Hawks by leading the team to its first playoff appearance since 2017.The playoff run took the Hawks all the way to the Eastern Conference finals, and McMillan says he believes more success awaits the young team.“I am truly blessed to be able to lead this special group into the future,” McMillan said in a statement released by the team on Thursday, when his deal as full-time coach was made official.“I believe what we accomplished this season is just the beginning of what we can achieve if we stay connected and committed to each other.”McMillan’s deal was formalized after general manager Travis Schlenk said Monday an agreement had been reached but the contract had not been drawn up.As interim coach, McMillan led the Hawks to an improbable run that changed the expectations for the young team.The Hawks were only 14-20 under former coach Lloyd Pierce, who along with Schlenk led the rebuilding effort. McMillan, 56, was named interim coach after Pierce was fired.The Hawks responded with an immediate turnaround, including sudden success in retaining late leads that had slipped away early in the season.The Hawks posted a 27-11 regular-season record under McMillan and earned the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.“The incredible job Nate did after taking over this season made this an easy decision,” Schlenk said. “We were able to see how gifted a tactician, motivator and leader he is first-hand and the high level of respect and trust he earned from our players made securing him as our head coach our top priority.”The Hawks beat the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers in the first two rounds of the playoffs before falling to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games in the Eastern Conference finals. It marked only the second time in their Atlanta history the Hawks played in the conference finals.The Hawks suffered a key injury during the conference finals when point guard Trae Young, the team’s leading scorer, missed two games with a bone bruise in his right foot after inadvertently stepping on an official’s foot and twisting his ankle in Game 3.McMillan joined Pierce’s staff after he was fired as Indiana’s coach. He also is a former head coach in Portland and Seattle.McMillan played his full 12-year career with Seattle after he was the No. 30 overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft. The Sonics retired his No. 10 jersey.McMillan became the 20th winningest coach in NBA history, passing Mike D’Antoni, when Atlanta beat Golden State on April 4. He has led Atlanta, Indiana, Portland and Seattle to a 688-599 regular-season record.The Hawks scheduled a news conference with McMillan for Friday.———More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

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