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.
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