Tuesday afternoon, they took a positive step on that journey.
"I think that's a big stepping stone for us," guard Jeff Teague said after helping the Hawks come from more than 10 points down twice and to a 92-91 victory over the Boston Celtics. "That's a tough game, against a tough team that beat us at home already.
"It's a big win. We kept fighting, kept fighting. It was a really big win."
"We obviously still have a ways to go – Al was such a big part of what we do," said forward Kyle Korver, whose four-point play started the second comeback. "He made us really unique, having a center who was just a knock-down, an absolute knockdown 17-foot shooter. Him and Paul (Millsap) were really starting to find a rhythm together.
"We have to still stay true to what we are and what we're trying to build in Atlanta, but at the same time we have to find some new ways to score."
The Hawks (18-14) fell behind by 18 points in the first half. Atlanta rallied to go ahead by six in the third quarter but trailed by 11 -- the Celtics rallied behind rookie big man Kelly Olynyk -- with 5:54 left in the game.
With a 10-0 run, the Hawks got right back in it and survived a wild final 90 seconds during which neither team scored.
Boston guard Jordan Crawford, hounded by guard Shelvin Mack after the Celtics called time with 4.2 seconds left, missed an off-balance jumper at the buzzer. That allowed the Hawks to escape and not waste season highs of 34 points and 15 rebounds by forward Paul Millsap.
"We had a chance to win it and we just weren't able to make shots towards the end of the game, well, throughout the whole game, but when it came down to it we weren't able to make the main shots," said Boston guard Avery Bradley, who capped a high-scoring month (16.7 points per game) with just eight points on 2-for-10 shooting.
Crawford, hit a prayer jumper as the 24-seconmd clock expired with 1:36 left, for Boston's final points. Teague, who finished with 16 points, 12 in the second half, was then fouled with 1:30 left and his two free throws ended the scoring.
"I was glad one finally went in," he said. "I had the whole section over there reminding me that I hadn't made a three yet. I had been shooting the ball flat all night, tried to put up a little bit higher and I got the foul, too."
The deflating loss was the latest installment of the Celtics' inability to protect a lead, a habit that is becoming chronic.
With starters Jared Sullinger (bothered by a hand injury), Jeff Green and Brandon Bass on the bench, Olynyk scored a career-high 21 points, 17 in the second half, and had five assists while forward Kris Humphries added 18 points (matching his season high) and grabbed a season-high 10 boards.
Celtics starters totaled just 35 points.
Without Horford, the Hawks are more perimeter based offensively. After taking a club-record 39 3-pointers each of the last two games, they fired up 29 on Tuesday, making only five.
NOTES: C Al Horford was scheduled to undergo surgery Tuesday on his torn right pectoral and will miss the rest of the season, including the playoffs. With Horford out, veteran Elton Brand is starting at center. ... With F DeMarre Carroll missing his second straight game with a right thumb sprain, F Mike Scott made his first start of the season, the second of his career, for the Hawks, scoring eight points and grabbing sdeven rebounds in 28 minutes. … Celtics G Rajon Rondo, making his way back from knee surgery, could spend some time with Maine Red Claws of the Development League. "It's more to get his wind back than anything," coach Brad Stevens said of the possible move. … The Celtics, who play six of their next seven games on the road, visit the Chicago Bulls Thursday, while the Hawks host the Golden State Warriors Friday night.