By: Donnie Menke ~Staff Writer~
The NBA All-Star Weekend kicked off on Friday night in New Orleans, delivering mediocre results for what was supposed to be a spectacular weekend.
The first event was the All- Star Celebrity game under an East/West format. The highlight of the game came when West Coach and ESPN anchor Michael Smith subbed in 14-year-old Jarrius Robertson, who has battled a chronic liver disease since birth. A New Orleans super fan, Robertson came in and scored a basket and was trending on social media after the game.
MVP honors went to Brandon Armstrong, a former D-Leaguer turned YouTube sensation for his NBA impression videos. Armstrong finished with 16 points, 15 rebounds and two assists.
Also held Friday night was the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, which took place in a USA vs World format for the third straight year. The Rising Stars Challenge showcases the top talent in the league amongst the first- and second- year players.
Team World prevailed over Team USA, making a comeback and winning by a score of 150- 141. Denver Nuggets shooting guard and rookie Jamal Murray won MVP honors with a 36-point performance while shooting 9-14 from three-point range. Charlotte Hornets forward Frank Kaminsky also netted 33 points with nine of 13 from 3-point range.
The Taco Bell Skills Challenge took place first on Saturday night, featuring four guards and four big men. Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward defeated Washington Wizards point guard John Wall in the first round, while Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas defeated Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker. Hayward then defeated Thomas in the next round to advance to the finals.
Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis defeated then-Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (who was traded to the Pelicans on Sunday night) while Nuggets forward Nikola Jokic defeated Pelicans forward Anthony Davis to face off against Porzingis. Porzingis eventually defeated both Jokic and Hayward to take home the title.
In the JBL Three-Point Contest, the heavy favorite was Warriors guard Klay Thompson, the defending champion. However, Thompson could not even make it out of the first round, falling just two points shy of advancing to the title. The finalists ended up being Charlotte guard Kemba Walker, Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving and Houston guard Eric Gordon.
Irving and Gordon both scored 20 points in the final round while Walker only managed 17. Gordon eventually bested Irving in the tiebreaker round, scoring 21 to Irving’s 18.
After the three-point contest, TNT honored the late Craig Sager with a touching tribute. Ernie Johnson, a longtime friend of Sager, gathered several people from around the arena, including Walker, Gordon, Irving, Houston guard James Harden, DJ Khaled and Hall of Famer Reggie Miller. They then shot three-pointers for a full minute, with each one made equaling a $10,000 donation to the Sager Strong Foundation. The tally ended up being $500,000 after a basket made by Sager’s son.
On Saturday night, the big storylines centered around the dunk contest. Last year’s runnerup Aaron Gordon returned to try and claim the title. Also in the dunk contest was Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, the Pacers’ Glenn Robinson III and the Suns’ Derrick Jones Jr.
Gordon failed to make it out of the first round, taking four attempts to complete his first dunk and finding himself unable to complete his second dunk. Although Gordon had a creative idea, using a drone to drop the ball to him, the results were underwhelming.
Jordan had one of the more memorable dunks of the night in the first round, flying over a DJ booth while DJ Khaled held the ball up and filmed the dunk. It was not enough, though, as his second dunk took too many attempts to complete to move on to the finals.
Jones, who had played just 20 minutes in his NBA career before the contest began, dazzled with his first dunk, jumping over four of his teammates for the finish. Jones also completed a between the legs dunk after catching a pass off the backboard.
Robinson III electrified the crowd with his first dunk, jumping over two people while one person was on the shoulders of another. He also finished with a dunk over multiple people in the final round that left you wondering how he didn’t hit his head on the rim to take home the title.
The All-Star game itself took place Sunday night and featured multiple records being broken. The record for most points scored combined in a quarter was set as the teams combined for 101 points in the first quarter. Anthony Davis also set a record, scoring 52 points on his way to earning MVP honors for the game as the West topped that East 192- 182 in a game the featured less defense than normal, even for this event.
The game featured non-stop offense from the two teams, with dunks, alley-oops and three pointers galore. Kevin Durant of the Warriors posted a triple-double, LeBron James of the Cavs hit a near midcourt shot and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks made a case to be in next year’s dunk contest. Steph Curry of the Warriors made some threes and laid on the ground to prevent being dunked on again. Players were getting out of the way of dunks all night, which perfectly sums up this All-Star game. All offense, defense optional.