To the chagrin of basketball fans, Luka vs. Trae III will have to wait until the 2021 campaign.
A few hours before game time at State Farm Arena Saturday night, word broke that both Luka Dončić and his sidekick Kristaps Porziņģis would sit against the Hawks in one of Atlanta’s most anticipated match-ups of the season.
What should’ve been a clash of sophomore sensations ended in a Hawks comeback 111-107 victory against the Dallas Mavericks, with nary a Dončić step-back in sight.
Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle cited ankle soreness for Dončić and continued rest on back-to-backs for Porziņģis, who’s still regaining strength in his left knee after tearing his ACL in 2018.
The lack of energy at tipoff was foreshadowed by Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce’s pregame press conference, which would’ve lasted all of 53 seconds had a media member not asked about the coach’s inaugural spades tournament that took place Friday.
“There was a couple that, I believe they’re retired. …They were the quietest pair [at the tournament]. They walked through everyone,” Pierce said.
The energy in the building picked up following the comeback win, below are some of the best player and coach reactions from Saturday night.
On the Hawks’ second-half effort:
“After playing these guys in Dallas and knowing they’d come out and be ultra-aggressive, and they were, I thought our guys did a tremendous job in the second half defensively holding them to 41 points. We were two points off our goal with 48 points in the paint. They had 50 but they had 34 I think at the half so we really did a tremendous job in the second half just keeping them out of the paint. That’s the main focus. Trying to guard, keep the ball out of the paint, and then make teams have to shoot over our defense not through our defense.”
On Collins’ big night:
“I felt coming into this game that John would have a big game. They don’t have their bigs. They’re going to switch a lot…They’re either going to blitz Trae and we get John on the backside of the action or they’re going to try and switch everything and we get John with the smalls guarding him. He gets a ton of rebounds and he gets a ton of points at the paint because they’re smaller and they’re trying to switch and he can just post them up. And he can clean up all the offensive rebounds.”
On Young’s leadership:
“It was a very lethargic third quarter. It was probably one of the weirdest timeouts I’ve ever been a part of. The guys were just flat and I don’t know why. And I commend Trae because he was one of the guys I went at and said ‘This is where as an All-Star you step up and take some leadership.’ And he really did. Vocally and obviously on the court.”
On not facing Dončić and Porziņģis:
“I mean obviously I love playing against the best players in our league and Luka’s obviously up there as one of our best players. For me, it’s tough not getting to play against him. But for him, I want him to get healthy and I want Kristaps to get healthy.”
On the Hawks’ slow start:
“That’s something we’ve got to get better at…Not digging ourselves such a deep hole, then maybe we can rest some of our starters late in the game if we get a lead.”
On getting teammates involved:
“I know a lot of teams are going to come out and trap me and try to get the ball out of my hands, and for me it’s my job to get the ball out quickly or gradually. …It’s good to see guys like Cam, John step up and make big plays, and Dewayne, everybody played well.”
On starting the season’s second half strong:
“It feels good for us to come out of the All-Star break with two really, really big games for us against two really good teams. Hopefully we can keep this momentum going.”
On not facing Dončić and Porziņģis:
“As a competitor I always want to compete against the best, but if you guys want to sit out and give us an opportunity to win, I’ll gladly take a W. A win is a win to me regardless of whoever’s is on the court.”
On what changed for the Hawks in the fourth quarter:
“I think our intensity. I think we wore them down throughout the course of the game. We did let them get into a rhythm but I feel like we stopped them and made our own run. Definitely some big plays from [Young] down the stretch in the fourth quarter. He always comes clutch.”
On Cam Reddish’s big game:
“He was great tonight. Always brings his effort and intensity on the defensive end. I feel like it just bleeds onto the offensive end. Sky’s the limit for him and we’re all looking forward to seeing him fulfill that potential.”
On Collins’ contributions:
“[He did] everything. Rebound, scoring, everything. Scored at all three levels. He works extremely hard so it’s not a surprise to any of us.”
On what led to the Hawks’ comeback:
“I thought we turned our energy up. We were just really engaged on [the defensive] side of the floor. We knew our offense would figure itself out. We had to buckle down on defense in order to get the win.”
On how the game has slowed down for him this season:
“I’ve been watching a lot of film, seeing where I can improve with my finishing. Even the shots I’m taking in general. I feel like I’m getting a lot better shots. …Locking in on film with the coaches has really paid off.”