By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- A poor third quarter doomed the Atlanta Hawks against the Boston Celtics at home earlier this month.
The Celtics wouldn't mind a repeat performance in order to avoid their longest slide in nearly six years.
The Hawks may have a key contributor back as they look for a more complete effort in another meeting with the Celtics on Friday night.
Atlanta (24-18) was eliminated in six games by Boston (20-22) in a first-round series in last season's playoffs, and the club fell 89-81 in the first meeting since on Jan. 5. The Hawks had their 15-point halftime lead vanish while being outscored 33-9 and making 2 of 14 from the floor in the third quarter.
"The one thing they did was increase the pressure in the second half, which we didn't handle very well," coach Larry Drew said. "We came out and played a really solid first half of basketball and didn't respond to the pressure. We took a lot of ill-advised shots. We did not get into our offense.
"It's not just with Boston, but it's with every team we play. We have to come out ready in the third quarter, and we have to be ready to deliver the first blow."
Atlanta has looked capable of that recently, winning 104-92 at Charlotte on Wednesday, two days after a 104-96 victory over Minnesota. The Hawks had dropped eight of 10 prior to that, including the defeat to the Celtics.
For Boston, that visit to Atlanta was part of a season-high six-game winning streak, but the club has followed that by losing five in a row. The Celtics haven't dealt with a longer slide since dropping seven straight from April 4-15, 2007.
They got closer to that dubious mark Thursday, falling 89-86 at home to Atlantic Division-leading New York. Boston has won five straight division titles, but trails second-place Brooklyn by six games while sitting seven back of the Knicks.
"We're two games under .500," Paul Pierce said. "There's still a lot of season left so we believe we can climb back in this division race."
Pierce had 22 points Thursday after averaging 11.8 on 31.0 percent shooting in the first four games of the skid. The Celtics are 10-18 when he scores 22 or less compared to going 10-4 when he gets at least 23.
Pierce had 26 points and nine rebounds in the latest meeting with the Hawks after averaging 21.2 against them in the playoffs.
Rajon Rondo is coming off his league-leading fourth triple-double, getting 23 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. One of his others came at Atlanta, where he managed 14 points, 11 boards and 10 assists.
The Hawks may have Al Horford back after missing two of four games with hamstring tightness. The big man is second on the team with 15.6 points per game, while leading with 9.8 rebounds.
He routinely struggles offensively against Boston, averaging 10.9 points in 15 career regular-season meetings. In the matchup three weeks ago, he went 2 of 8 from the field to finish with six points.
Leading scorer Josh Smith wasn't much better, getting 12 points with 10 rebounds while missing 14 of 18 attempts from the floor. However, he was terrific Wednesday, pouring in 30 points while connecting on 15 of 24 field goals after averaging 12.6 over the previous five games.
Updated January 25, 2013
We check in for our weekly update from Bill Belichick and get his take on the Pats win over the Texans on the road, the benching of Stevan Ridley, and Antonio Smith's thinly veiled Spygate comments after the Texans lost.
Patriots’ defensive end, Rob Ninkovich, joins Mut and Merloni on a Patriots Monday after the team’s victory in Houston. Rob addresses the postgame comments of Texans’ defensive lineman Antonio Smith and the defense struggling against the run.
Tom Brady joined the show fresh off the teams 9th win of the season in Houston. He dismissed Antonio Smith's spying allegations and told the guys he has already moved on.
Eagle checks in to give Grande and Max a perspective on the Brooklyn Nets after they acquired Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett via trade earlier this summer. He breaks down what he thinks the future holds for the Nets after completing this blockbuster deal.
Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell take some time and look back at the history between the Celtics and the Lakers, specifically the legendary rivalry between Magic and Bird. Legendary broadcaster, Ian Eagle, checks in to give the Brooklyn perspective as KG and Paul Pierce settle into their new home. Sean and Max also reveal the behind the scenes details surrounding Max’s famous “I got the ball” moment.
In the first hour of this edition of the Celtics Summer Cooler, Grande and Max analyze the trade that sent Fab Melo out of Boston. Also in this hour, Max sets the story straight about his history with Larry Bird.
Rob Bradford and Alex Speier talk with Jon Lester about contract negotiations, losing a teammate like Jacoby Ellsbury, the World Series run, and looking ahead to 2014.
Rob Bradford and Alex Speier are back witht he Hot Stove Show. They talk about Jacoby Ellsbury signing with the New York Yankees, the Red Sox signings of AJ Pierzynski and Edward Mujica, and wrap it up with Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester, who talks about the World Series run, losing a teammate like Ellsbury and looking towards 2014.
The Red Sox new catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, joined the show to discuss his reputation as the most hated man in baseball. He also said that he turned down multi-year deals to come and win in Boston.
Shawn Thornton joined the show and discussed the teams long layoff leading into their game tomorrow night in Montreal. He told the guys that he anticipates fighting being a part of hockey for years to come.
Lucic joins Danny Picard to talk some hockey after the team’s overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes. Danny asks Lucic about David Krejci’s game winner yesterday and hockey outsiders that are trying to change the game.
Shawn Thornton joined the show fresh off his big night at MSG and talked about his recent goal scoring prowess. Shawn said that no matter who his line mates are he is always going to be a fourth liner.
Kirk Minihane answered any and all questions from the listeners and John and Gerry.
The New York Post's Joel Sherman joined the show with his thoughts on jacoby Ellsbury's signing with the Yankees. He said that if it were up to him he would have given the money to Robinson Cano over Ellsbury.
The top stories of the day as recounted by Kirk Minihane. They discussed how Ron Burgundy has officially jumped the shark and played sound of him on Dan Patrick.
Peter King joins Mut and Merloni to go across the NFL and address the latest news. He discusses Kubiak's firing, Tomlin's fine, and Dennard's possible suspension.
Brick makes his weekly appearance on Mut and Merloni and discusses the Bruins loss to Montreal and the hit on Johnny Boychuck.
Michael Fabiano, fantasy expert and Yankees fan, gives his opinion on the Cano signing, discusses Julian Edelman's rising fantasy value, and actually suggests starting Ryan Fitzpatrick
We check in with Herm Edwards on the Pats, Stevan Ridley, and a great many things around the NFL.
We stir up a pot of crap when we debate the world cup and the popularity of soccer... pro callers, con-callers, plus Jack Edwards!
We tackle four topics at 4PM.
Ryder talks with WEEI.com's Chris Price about the Patriots upcoming game with the Cleveland Browns, and Stevan Ridley's status on the team.
Alex joins the show and gives his thoughts on the Jacoby Ellsbury deal, and what prospects the Red Sox have to fill the hole left in the lineup, or trade pieces to get a player who can fill the void.
John talks to Rob and gets his thoughts on the Yankees signing Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox signing AJ Pierzynski, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia signing with Miami.
The Red Sox new catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, joined the show to discuss his reputation as the most hated man in baseball. He also said that he turned down multi-year deals to come and win in Boston.More from this show
The top stories of the day as recounted by Kirk Minihane. Today the guys discussed the first ever dog custody battle in New York City.More from this show
Kirk Minihane answered any and all questions from the listeners and John and Gerry.More from this show