As far as All-Star Saturday nights go, this was easily one of the most entertaining we’ve ever seen, with the elimination of the Shooting Stars Challenge, which never was all that fun to watch anyway, and legitimately nail-baiting moments throughout all of the evening’s remaining three events. It was fun from start to finish, giving fans in Toronto more bang for their buck than they probably expected.
Taco Bell Skills Challenge
The biggest change for the Skills Challenge this year was the addition of a second half of the bracket featuring big men. That meant that on one side, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis and Draymond Green were to compete for the opportunity of playing one of the speedier backcourt guys, including C.J. McCollum, Jordan Clarkson, Isaiah Thomas and Emmanuel Mudiay.
The head-to-head format that started last season worked well again this year, as it seems to put a little extra pep in the competitors’ collective steps. In the first round, McCollum and Clarkson both showed more hustle than is typical for this contest, but McCollum was very clearly better, while Thomas won his matchup against Mudiay despite looking like he was only going at about 70 percent speed.
On the big men’s side, Draymond Green got out to a huge lead in his first-round matchup against Towns but missed enough three-pointers to keep Towns in it, and sure enough, the rookie sunk his shot and knocked out the guy some people thought would win it all. On the other side, Cousins fumbled his dribble almost immediately but still somehow managed to knock down his three-pointer first to top the Unibrow. Boogie of course danced off the court with swagger.
In the semifinals, McCollum had a horrible round against the flawless Isaiah Thomas, who hit his first chest pass and sunk his first three-point attempt. McCollum, meanwhile, dribbled off his leg through the logos and didn’t hit a single pass.
Thomas would ultimately face Towns in the championship round, after Towns toppled Cousins in a pretty unsurprising upset considering how hard Towns was working and how slowly Cousins was moving. In the championship, both guys really got down to business and ran their rear ends off. Both Thomas and Towns hit their first pass and sunk their layups at exactly the same time. Then they volleyed through a couple of three-pointers until Towns, the big man, finally won.
The rest of his frontcourt teammates stormed the court to congratulate Towns, the player who took the event most seriously and pretty clearly wanted to win the thing. He did, proving that big men got skills, too.
Foot Locker Three-Point Contest
Before officially getting underway, Draymond Green and comedian Kevin Hart pulled off an entertaining appetizer by facing off against each other in a quick three-point contest bit that Green clearly was supposed to win. He didn’t, as Hart drained a shot at the buzzer to beat the All-Star forward, which was quite a bit more awesome than the gag at the end that saw Green get a Hart-sized trophy despite his loss. Nobody loves All-Star Weekend more than Hart, do they?
For the real contest, Klay Thompson kicked things off with a hot start by scoring 22 points, the highest score of the first round. James Harden and J.J. Redick both followed up with scores of 20, leaving Khris Middleton to be the first player of the night to fall short of that mark.
Middleton looked pretty nervous and shaken under the bright lights and only scored a 13. Suns rookie Devin Booker had a slow start, too, but the difference between the two was that Booker, like every other guy before him except Middleton, also managed 20 points. He, Redick and Harden would ultimately undergo a shoot-off to see who would end up in the championship round.
The other half of the first round saw C.J. McCollum and Kyle Lowry both serve up disappointing rounds, while defending champion Stephen Curry snuck into the finals on his last shot, a money ball that gave him a score of 21 and pushed him ahead of the three shoot-off guys. Booker surprisingly won that shoot-off, eliminating Redick and Harden, so by the end of the first round we were left with Booker and the two Warriors’ guards, as well as a strong distaste for the Demi Lovato “Confident” instrumental that had been playing more or less nonstop for the previous 20 minutes.
In the final round, Booker showed his inexperience by scoring only 16 points, while Steph put up a blazing score of 23, the highest of the night at that point. To beat his teammate, Klay Thompson would have to score at least 24 points, which he did easily by sinking the entire final rack, consisting entirely of money balls. He finished with a score of 27 and stole away the three-point title from his teammate, Curry. At least he kept it in the Golden State family.
Verizon Slam Dunk Contest
It’s been a very long time since the dunk contest was the marquee event the NBA has billed it as, but Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine put together a showdown for the ages on Saturday that included some of the most impressive dunks the contest has ever seen. Nothing against Will Barton or Andre Drummond, who each had their fair share of creative first-round slams, but the party got started when Gordon and LaVine really got down to business.
Gordon, who in the first round ripped the ball off of his mascot’s head, tucked it though his legs, then dunked it with authority, was the first person really to get the crowd energized. Everybody but Shaquille O’Neal gave that dunk a 10, which was fine because when LaVine completed an alley-oop dunk from the free-throw line, Shaq also returned the same controversial score, to the boisterous glee of the rest of the voting panel.
Either way those two dunks finished the first round and ensured the finals fans clearly were hoping for. There, Gordon sent his mascot to spin in circles on a hoverboard so that he had to time his jump perfectly to snatch the ball. When he did, he cuffed it with one hand, tucked the other hand behind his head and diligently stuffed the thing home like it was a Nerf hoop. It was completely creative and exciting, so much so that even Shaq had to give it a ten.
LaVine followed that up with a similar dunk minus the mascot, though LaVine grabbed it even lower out of the air and seemed to dip it down before round-housing the cuffed ball back up and around on the first attempt. Another 50-point dunk.
Next up, Gordon did a variation of his first mascot dunk, but this time swung the ball directly under his seat and slammed it on the other side of the rim, a completely new dunk for the dunk contest that may have electrified the crowd more than any dunk all night and easily could have been the evening’s most entertaining stunt. That alone would have won Gordon the contest in any other year, but LaVine refused to make it easy.
As a response to that dunk, LaVine pulled off a windmill from the free-throw line. No big deal, just another 50-point score. For his turn, Gordon then grabbed it from the side of the backboard, twisted, pumped and went in for the reverse. 50 points again. Next, LaVine lobbed the ball from behind the backboard, went through his legs and two-hand reversed it, giving the crowd its sixth consecutive perfect score.
Because no one faltered at all in the finals, there had to be a freestyle dunk-off, and while Gordon clearly was out of ideas and didn’t prepare a sixth dunk, he still managed something pretty impressive with a double-double pump that ultimately earned him a 47. LaVine, then, jumped a few inches in front of the free-throw line, went through his legs and stuffed it. While he lived at the free-throw line all night, which some could argue showed a lack of creativity, the dunks he did were impossible, which is why that last one also earned him a 50 and sent him to the winner’s podium for the second straight year.
All that will be tough to top next year, but thanks to some nail-biters and genuinely entertaining moments the 2016 All-Star Saturday activities were as good as they’ve ever been. Let’s hope Sunday’s game is just as fun.
Anthony Davis Breaks All-Star Scoring Record, Wins MVP
Pelicans star Anthony Davis openly proclaimed ahead of Sunday’s All-Star Game that he was going after the MVP award, and he didn’t make his master plan on how to do so much of a secret.
“Coach [Alvin] Gentry already told me every time I catch it to put it up,” said Davis upon being selected to his fourth straight spot on the Western Conference team. Davis took an All-Star record 39 shots and scored 52 points to lead the West over the East at the 66th All-Star Game, 192-182 — the highest-scoring game in league history. The 23-year-old’s point total smashed the previous record of 42, set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962.
Source: Justin Verrier of ESPN
2017 NBA All-Star Sunday Recap
A breakdown of the final day of 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend.
Coming in to the 2017 NBA All-Star game, the biggest storyline was Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as teammates again for one night. But it was hometown hero Anthony Davis who stole the show.
The Pelicans star scored a game-high 52 points, breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star record of 42 points, as the Western Conference pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 192-182 win. A four time All-Star, Davis shot 26-for-39 from the field and grabbed 10 rebounds as he took home his first All-Star MVP award.
It was also the third consecutive win for the West, who have now won six of the last seven matchups, as well as the highest scoring All-Star game in NBA history.
Westbrook and Durant did end up having a moment together in the first quarter, when Westbrook passed the ball ahead to Durant in the post, and Durant threw it right back to him for an alley-oop dunk. The play got their Western Conference teammates up off the bench, and they broke into a round of applause during a timeout.
After a back and forth affair for much of the night, the West was able to create separation in the fourth quarter as Davis and Westbrook took over. Davis threw down several thunderous dunks and Westbrook, who scored 41 points of his own, added a few deep threes. He shot 16-for-26 from the field, pulled down five rebounds, and dished out seven assists.
Durant had only the fourth triple double in All-Star history with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists.
The East was led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 30 points on 14-for-17 shooting in his All-Star debut. He dazzled the crowd throughout the game with athletic, high flying dunks. Cavalier teammates Lebron James and Kyrie Irving added 23 and 22 points, respectively. Irving also dished out 14 assists.
Other players making All-Star appearances for the first time were Gordon Hayward and DeAndre Jordan for the West, and Kemba Walker for the East. Hayward finished with eight points, two assists, and tied John Wall with a game high four steals. Jordan had six points, two assists, and three rebounds. Walker had seven points and six assists.
In all, it was a very entertaining game and made up for the somewhat lackluster Saturday night.
All-Star Weekend 2018 will be held in Los Angeles.
2017 NBA All-Star Saturday Recap
Basketball Insiders recaps All-Star Saturday night from New Orleans
Another year, another great All-Star Saturday night. Packed with excitement throughout, it was a great time for the players, spectators and those watching at home.
Taco Bell Skills Challenge
The Skills Challenge started off with the two guard matchups, pitting Gordon Hayward and Isaiah Thomas against John Wall and Devin Booker, respectively. Hayward ultimately came out on top against Wall, while Thomas cruised by Devin Booker into the semifinals.
On the big man side of the bracket, DeMarcus Cousins matched up with Kristaps Porzingis while Nikola Jokić went up against New Orleans’ own Anthony Davis. Cousins lost out to Porzingis when he was unable to hit the three-point jumper to end the round, while Jokić came from behind to beat Davis.
In the semifinals, Hayward squeaked by Thomas while Porzingis, who flew out to an early lead, barely managed to beat Jokić to the three-pointer.
Hayward and Porzingis matched up in the best round of the event. Both men hustled up and down the floor, making their first pass and layup at the exact same time. Porzingis emerged victorious, though, after knocking down his first three-pointer. The event ended with him being rushed on the court by Cousins, Davis and Jokić and taking home the Taco Bell Skills Challenge trophy for the big men—for the second straight year.
JBL Three-Point Contest
The three-point contest kicked off with Kemba Walker—who started off cold but salvaged the round by hitting four of five money balls in his final rack—finishing with 19 points. Kyrie Irving followed, upping Walker’s score by 1. Wesley Matthews looked like a deer in the headlights, making eight of 25 shots and scoring only 11 points en route to a first round exit.
Next, Eric Gordon came out scorching, sinking 18 three-pointers and scoring 25 points—the highest score in the first round. Nick Young, C.J. McCollum and Kyle Lowry joined Matthews on the sideline, scoring 18, 10 and nine points, respectively. Reigning champion Klay Thompson made a quick and surprising exit from the contest as well, as he managed to score 18 points. That score, while respectable, left him one shy of advancing, meaning that Walker, Irving and Gordon would advance to the next round.
Walker started off the final round by scoring 17 points, losing out to Irving and Gordon, who each turned in 20 points and, as a result, entered into an overtime shoot-off for the title. Ultimately, Gordon was crowned champion and handed the JBL Three-Point Contest trophy, besting Kyrie’s 18 points with 21 of his own.
Following a touching tribute video to the late Craig Sager, TNT’s Ernie Johnson announced that Gordon, Irving and Walker, along with a few surprise guests including Reggie Miller, James Harden and DeMar DeRozan, were given one minute to shoot as many three-pointers as possible. Each converted three-pointer, Johnson announced, would result in a $10,000 donation to the Sager Strong Foundation. Following some half-court attempts from Stephen Curry and a Shaquille O’Neal assisted layup from Sager’s son, Ryan, the donation amount eventually came to a total of $500,000.
Verizon Slam Dunk Contest
Other than Sager’s tribute, the Slam Dunk Contest was the most exciting event of the night. Pitting dunking aficionados DeAndre Jordan and Aaron Gordon against relatively unknown names in Derrick Jones Jr. and Glenn Robinson III, the contest was absolutely packed with energy and excitement.
To start off, Jordan managed to leap over a DJ table with DJ Khaled, who was holding the ball that Jordan grabbed and flushed. The dunk scored a 41 with the judges. Glenn Robinson III followed up Jordan’s dunk with an amazing one of his own, jumping over the equivalent of one-and-a-half men—one sat on the other’s shoulders. He performed the dunk while pumping the ball between his legs and flushing it through the hoop for a perfect score of 50. Derrick Jones Jr., who hurdled four people before throwing it down, earned 45 points.
Next was one of (if not the) craziest dunk attempts in the contest’s existence. Aaron Gordon, who tipped everyone off that one of his attempts would use modern technology, was aided by a flying drone. Gordon had the drone hold the ball about 15 feet off the ground. The plan was for the drone to release the ball and for Gordon to catch it on a bounce and dunk it. He managed to grab the bouncing ball and bring it between his legs before the dunk, but it took Gordon four attempts to successfully complete the dunk. He ended up with a low score of 38.
On his second dunk, Gordon scored a measly 34 points, giving him a total of 72. He failed at all four of his attempts and was eliminated. Next, Jordan turned 180 degrees before bringing the ball between his legs and through the hoop for a score of 43 points, giving him a total of 84. Robinson III sent Jordan packing, though, after he pulled a dunk straight out of the history books, dabbing before putting it through the hoop, à la Dee Brown in the 1991 contest. Robinson III scored 41 points on the dunk, giving him a total of 91. Jones Jr. then managed one of the best dunks of the night, taking it off a bounce off the side of the backboard and through his legs, stuffing it for a perfect score and a total of 95.
In the final round, Robinson III started off by leaping over teammate Paul George and windmilling the ball into the basket on his second attempt for a score of 44 points. Jones followed up with his worst effort of the night, failing to make any of his attempts and earning a score of 37 from the judges. However, Jones came back with a perfect score on his next dunk, taking the ball through his legs off the bounce and flushing it with authority. That gave him a total of 87 points. Robinson III matched Jones Jr.’s perfect score with one of his own, again jumping over George as well as two others, pumping it between his legs and throwing it down behind his head for a final score of 94. Robinson III walked away victorious and with the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest trophy.
The 2017 All-Star Saturday, gripping from start to finish, will go down as one of the better in recent memory.
Here’s hoping Sunday’s game is as good if not better.