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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.

Tagged: Hawks, Celtics, Paul Pierce, Al Horford

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