Another strong start bodes well for the Atlanta Hawks' continued rise, but there's one feat they've yet to achieve that would help them further assert themselves as an Eastern Conference power.The Hawks will get another chance at their first win in Boston since the Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen as the teams meet for the first time this season Friday night.
The Celtics (8-1) have won all seven regular-season meetings with Atlanta since the start of the 2007-08 season, and even though the Hawks pushed top-seeded Boston to seven games in the teams' first-round playoff series in 2008, their four lopsided road losses in that series are among their nine straight defeats at the TD Garden.
Atlanta (6-2) nearly won in Boston last season, with the Celtics needing Paul Pierce's last-second jumper to win 103-102 on Nov. 12, 2008, but Boston earned a more comfortable 104-92 victory in the most recent meeting April 3.
"We don't play the same way we do at home," Hawks forward Josh Smith said after that game. "We get away from the things we do at home and don't do it on the road."
After they went 1-4 on the road in last season's playoffs and got swept in the second round by Cleveland, the Hawks are hoping things have changed. They're 3-2 away from Atlanta during their strong start, including a quality win at Portland.
They won 114-101 at New York on Wednesday night, shooting 54.3 percent from the field to open this brief two-game trip.
"We've grown," coach Mike Woodson said. "The last two years we've been in some tough games. We've won some tough ones and we've lost. You know this team hasn't quit these last two years and it's a sign of the guys in that locker room. We're all fighting for something. We're trying to be better than a year ago."
Atlanta used a balanced effort to surge past the Knicks, with six players scoring at least 11 points and four scoring at least 19, led by Al Horford's 25.
Boston employed a similar formula in its 105-86 home win over Utah on Wednesday, with seven players scoring in double figures. Garnett led the way with 18 points, while Rajon Rondo added 14 and 11 assists.
Looking rejuvenated after three days of rest, the Celtics regained the dominant form from their 6-0 start. Their previous three games, at the end of a busy stretch of eight games in 12 days to start the season, had been narrow victories at Minnesota and New Jersey sandwiched around a home loss to Phoenix.
"You could see the difference between (Wednesday) and the two games previous. Actually, three games," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "So it's really nice to see. Obviously there's not going to be nights when your top seven players all have double figures, but when you get those nights, that's pretty good."
A stifling defense continues to spark Boston, which is allowing a league-best 84.6 points per game.
Atlanta's offense, meanwhile, has been among the NBA's most efficient, averaging 107.8 points and shooting 48.2 percent from the field. Both figures rank among the top four in the league.
The Hawks haven't experienced that sort of success against Boston in recent meetings.
In the seven regular-season losses to the Celtics since the start of 2007-08, Atlanta has averaged 90.3 points. Hawks leading scorer and former Celtics first-round draft pick Joe Johnson has shot 37.3 percent from the field in those games.
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