Good afternoon, folks. That was a hell of a Saturday night at All-Star weekend. Let’s talk NBA.
“There’s a big misconception where people thinking winning or success comes from everybody putting their arms around each other and singing kumbaya and patting them on the back when they mess up, and that’s just not reality. If you are going to be a leader, you are not going to please everybody. You have to hold people accountable. Even if you have that moment of being uncomfortable.” — Kobe Bryant
Bam Adebayo wins Skills Challenge
I can’t remember an All-Star Saturday night that was more thrilling from start to finish than what went down in Chicago just a few hours ago. The Skills Challenge had me glued to the TV. The 3-point contest had me violently yelling. The Dunk Contest nearly gave me a brain aneurysm.
For a while, it looked like Kentucky might open up the night going 2-for-2 in the first two competitions. Bam Adebayo skated through the Skill Challenge, beating Indiana Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis on a last-second triple to win the event. The Miami Heat big man beat Spencer Dinwiddie (a former champion of this event) in round one and then took down Pascal Siakam to advance to the final round. Following his victory, Adebayo said he was going to give the trophy to his mom (if you read Zach Lowe’s piece on Bam earlier this week, you’d know why that’s extra special).
Adebayo was picked last by Las Vegas to win the competition (+1000 odds) and he made sure to let everyone know that he is not to be slept on, especially not by the betting minds.
Bam Adebayo your skills competition champ and proud of that Miami on his jersey. Hell yes! pic.twitter.com/My1GvrnZ29
— Will Manso (@WillManso) February 16, 2020
We better start seeing Bam fire up 25-footers in the first game after the All-Star break or we all riot.
Devin Booker justttt loses 3-Point Shootout
It took a near-perfect final rack from Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield to take down Devin Booker in the final round of the 3-Point Contest. Book easily made his way through the first round before facing off against Hield and Washington Wizards forward Davis Bertans in the final round.
This was the first year that the NBA introduced the “Dew Ball”, as I call it, where they added an extra 10 seconds on the clock and created two bonus shots for each round. A green ball worth three points was placed in between the middle and elbow racks on both sides with a distance of about 30-feet, adding the potential for six extra points. It was a great idea, honestly, considering the trend of more and more elite shooters taking shots from way beyond the arc. It added another level of tension to the event and worked perfectly in adding to the drama.
Bertans went first in the final round, coming away with a score of 22 out of a possible 40. Booker followed him, quickly taking the lead with an impressive score of 26 (he put up 27 in the first round). He hit the second Dew Ball and made three of his five in the money rack to hold a comfortable lead.
But then Buddy Hield happened. Entering the final rack with just 19 points, Hield had to hit four of his five money balls (worth two points) to win the contest. He made the first three, missed the fourth, and drilled the fifth right before time expired to steal an exciting win.
Booker came this close to winning the event for the second time (2018) and did so after initially not even making the All-Star roster. He deserved to be here and you could tell he was having the time of his life. Booker and Hield both badly wanted to win this contest. Just by watching Hield’s reaction after he knocked in his game-winning three, you knew he wanted that trophy.
Derrick Jones Jr. wins controversial Dunk Contest
Somehow, someway, the night only got better.
I gotta feel a bit bad for Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who has now participated in two of the greatest dunk contests of all-time and has nothing to show for it. He posted five consecutive perfect scores on Saturday night but still couldn’t take down Miami Heat guard, and my personal pick to win the contest, Derrick Jones Jr. – a.k.a. Airplane Mode.
Seriously, though, we saw dunks that have never been done before. Pat Connaughton might have executed the best dunk of the entire evening and it didn’t even get him out of the first round (he dunked OVER Giannis Atentokounmpo AND tapped the ball on the backboard before throwing it down. He also did a dope White Man Can’t Jump reference for his first dunk. In any other year, Connaughton probably goes onto the final round). Dwight Howard’s tribute to Kobe Bryant was a nice added piece, too, and it was a throwback to when Howard participated – and won – the Dunk Contest back in 2008.
But the real excitement started when Gordon and Jones met in the final round.
Aside from Connaughton’s backboard-tapping slam, the best dunks of the evening all came in the final round.
My personal favorites were Jones catching a pass off the backboard, jumping over a human being, and putting it between his legs for a slam – something that had never been pulled off in an NBA Dunk Contest before – or when Gordon caught the ball at his waist and spun around for an insane tomahawk dunk.
Like, look at this shit.
DERRICK JONES JR!!
Off the glass
Between the legs
Over a Person (good pass @TFBChuckTheBoss)
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) February 16, 2020
This had to be one of the best dunks ever
Aaron Gordon absolutely robbed pic.twitter.com/svKUhotEkW
— Devin Keller (@D_Keller19) February 16, 2020
Both dunkers were unleashing 50s on every dunk. They both combined for a perfect score of 100 after the first two dunks and needed another round to decide the winner. It got to the point where I was perfectly fine to tab them both as winners and move on. You got the sense that someone was going to lose even though they probably didn’t deserve to. When Gordon brought out Tacko-Freaking-Fall for the final dunk of the evening, the whole arena got wide-eyed.
Fall didn’t even know that Gordon was going to call him in as a prop. The 7-foot-5 (yes, Gordon jumped OVER a 7-foot-5 man) center from the Boston Celtics stood in the paint as Gordon leaped right over top of him. But this is when controversy crept in. Jones had been given a 48 on his final dunk and Gordon’s dunk over Fall only landed him a 47. Dwyane Wade, Candace Parker, and Chadwick Boseman all gave Gordon a 9, while only TWO of them gave Jones’ last dunk a 9. Was there some collusion on the part of Wade (a former Heat player siding with a current Heat player)? There was talk that it should just end as a tie. One of the judges didn’t get the memo, apparently.
Gordon was understandably upset after Jones was named the winner. To be fair, he did pull off five straight perfect dunks. BUT, Jones Jr. was doing special things, too. On a few of the dunks, it felt like the person that went first was going to win due to the shock-effect. Even if the second dunk was elite (and they were), how can you top a dunk where Jones Jr. throws it down from the damn free-throw line? I personally don’t think Gordon was robbed back in 2016 when Zach LaVine beat him in what was previously the greatest dunk contest I have ever witnessed. And I personally don’t think Gordon was robbed on Saturday night, either.
That’s how these competitions work.
Just watch every dunk and decide for yourself.
TONIGHT IN THE NBA
8:00 (TNT): Team LeBron (Booker, Davis) v. Team Giannis (Adebayo)
But All-Star weekend isn’t over just yet. We still have the main event on Sunday night, the 69th All-Star game, which will feature three former Wildcats; Devin Booker and Anthony Davis on Team LeBron with Bam Adebayo on Team Giannis.