The NBA's annual All-Star weekend kicked into high gear with Saturday's showcase of events. The league has done away with the Shooting Stars Competition (that halfcourt shot one that Bosh always wins at) to grant more spotlight to the revamped Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the always fun Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout, and the famed Sprite Slam Dunk Contest.
The most radically overhauled event, the Skills Challenge now had eight competitors in Emmanuel Mudiay (replacing the injured Patrick Beverley), DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green, Anthony Davis, CJ McCollum, Karl-Anthony Towns, Isaiah Thomas, and Jordan Clarkson. These players were divided into 4 wings and 4 bigs. The competition was now one-on-one in the sense that two players would run through the obstacle course at the same time (dribble, pass, layup, and sink a three) and whoever finished first would advance.
Towns would defeat Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins (who beat Davis) while Isaiah Thomas got the better of McCollum (who beat Clarkson) and Mudiay. This set up an exciting finals where the big man Towns showed his three point range, barely edging out Thomas and getting mobbed by his fellow big men upon sinking his three point try before Thomas could.
The event that many Heat fans hoped to watch in hopes of seeing Chris Bosh, the contest was nonetheless a thrilling event featuring the heavy favorite Splash Brothers (Steph Curry and Klay Thompson) along with JJ Redick, Khris Middleton, Kyle Lowry, CJ McCollum (Bosh's replacement), and Devin Booker. The Splash Bros would advance to the finals, but the third finals spot was under heavy dispute, with Redick, Booker, and Harden all scoring 20 in their first attempt. A 30-second tiebreaker round settled the score, with Booker advancing with 10 points.
Booker, bless his heart, was trampled by both Curry and Thompson in the finals, scoring "only" 16. Curry would score 23, but ultimately fell to an incredible display by Klay, who scored 27 and sank his final eight shots, the last five being "money balls" that award two points each.
Slam Dunk Contest
There's really no need to talk about the first round is there? Andre Drummond and Will Barton are phenomenal young players with bright futures in the league, but they were utterly outclassed by the wondrous show put on by Aaron Gordon and defending champion Zach LaVine. LaVine focused on demonstrating his cartoonish hang time and wingspan, while Gordon would frequently summon Stuff the Magic Dragon (yes that is the Magic mascot's name) and a hoverboard to compliment the power he put into each of his slams. These two would score a perfect 50 + 50 = 100 on both of their final round dunks, so we were left with a dunk-off.
And they tied at 50 again. So we got another one.
LaVine would finally seal the deal with a free-throw line (his foot was on the line, but stop nitpicking) windmill dunk that netted him 50, while Gordon had to "settle" for a 47 with a double-pump reverse jam.
I do not possess the literary eloquence to give each dunk the proper justice it deserves, so just watch these here if you somehow missed them.
Overall, it was one of the more memorable All-Star Saturday's in some time. The revamped Skills Challenge injected life into what was a dated event while the steady Three-Point Contest featured the game's best. The story, however, will be the renaissance of the Dunk Contest, with LaVine and Gordon giving the contest a one-on-one battle for the ages.