Minnesota’s LaVine defends slam dunk title in style with string of perfect scores
TORONTO – Minnesota’s Zach LaVine outlasted Orlando’s Aaron Gordon to defend his slam dunk title in spectacular fashion while Golden State’s Klay Thompson dethoned Splash Brother Steph Curry in the three-point shooting contest at the NBA all-star skills competition Saturday night.
And Karl-Anthony Towns showed big men have skills too as the seven-footer from the Minnesota Timberwolves beat five-foot-nine Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas in the final of the skills challenge at the Air Canada Centre.
The six-foot-five LaVine, who won as a 19-year-old rookie last year, joins Michael Jordan (1987-88), Jason Richardson (2002-03) and Nate Robinson (2009-10) as the only back-to-back dunk winners.
LaVine and Gordon breathed life back into the contest with two perfect 50s each in the final two-dunk round. And then one more apiece in a dunkoff before LaVine won with another perfect score.
The six-foot-nine Gordon used teammate Elfrid Payton for a reverse windmill that posted the fifth straight 50. LaVine answered with a between-the-legs backwards two-handed dunk for the sixth 50.
“We can do this all night,” said the announcer.
Another dunk was needed.
Gordon went high-low-high with the ball on a two-handed reverse dunk that drew a score of 47 and boos from the crowd.
LaVine won it with a flying between-the-legs one-handed dunk with a takeoff from just inside the free-throw line. Cue another 50 and a court invasion from fellow players.
The dunk contest was the highlight of the night with Gordon’s innovation rivalling LaVine’s amazing athleticism.
With Orlando mascot Stuff slowly rotating on a hoverboard, Gordon grabbed the ball with one hand and slammed it home for a perfect 50 after the field was cut from four to two. LaVine matched that score with a similar dunk, using a bounce pass to himself rather than a mascot.
Gordon lit the place up with his next dunk, leaping over the mascot and then grabbing the ball from his head and jamming it one-handed through the rim. Another 50 score followed.
LaVine pulled out a one-handed windmill dunk, taking to the air at the free-throw line for a perfect score of his own.
LaVine said they should share the trophy “because he did stuff I’ve never seen before.”
“He brought the best out of me,” he added.
The dunk judges were a Who’s Who of hoops: George (The Iceman) Gervin, Dikembe Mutombo, former Raptor Tracy McGrady, Shaquille O’Neal and Magic Johnson.
The dunk contest was actually slow to build with Will Barton of the Denver Nuggets and Andre Drummond eliminated.
In the second go-round, Drummond used Steve Nash as a setup man with the retired Canadian NBA star using his soccer skills to tee up the ball. The windmill dunk worked on the sixth attempt for a 39, good for a final score of 75.
Barton scored a 30 for a total of 74. Gordon, using the Orlando mascot as a setup man, took the ball off his head and then jumping over him. Gordon’s head was above the rim as he dunked for a 49 (O’Neal scored it a nine) and a total of 94.
LaVine’s second dunk, with teammate Andre Miller helping, missed with a flying attempt from just inside the free throw line. But he made it on the second attempt, hammering the ball down with his right hand for a 49 (O’Neal holding out again) and total of 99.
In the three-point shooting contest, Curry made his first seven shots and three of the last four to put up a score of 23 in the championship round. But fellow Warrior Thompson was better, racking up 27 as he hit eight shots in a row in the middle and drained the final rack of money balls as the crowd roared.
“Not gonna lie, I got nervous when he hit his first eight (seven actually) and I didn’t think he was going to miss.” said Thompson.
“Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool,” he added.
On a day that also saw the East and West NBA all-stars practise and the East beat the West 128-124 in the D-League all-star game, the spotlight switched to individual skills Saturday night.
The NBA showed no shortage of sponsors in naming the evening and its events.
State Farm All-Star Saturday Night featured the Taco Bells Skill Challenge, the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Verizon Slam Dunk Contest.
Comedian/talk show host Jon Stewart introduced the slam dunk contest.
“I hope everyone’s enjoying this beautiful summer night,” he said after a day in which Toronto’s frigid temperatures made Moscow look like the Caribbean.
Thompson led the first round of three-point shooting with 22 points, followed by Curry at 21 and Booker at 20. Curry missed his first three shots and needed to make his final two to advance out of the first round.
Booker won a tiebreaker to advance to the championship round after tying with Houston’s James Harden and J.J. Redick of the Clippers at 20.
Toronto’s Kyle Lowry (15) did not advance.
In a side contest, diminutive actor Kevin Hart tied six-foot-seven Draymond Green of Golden State in a three-point shooting contest. As a joke, Green was presented with a giant trophy while Hart got a ribbon.
It was a light-hearted evening with Stewart shown on the bongo cam on the big screen while Nash quaffed a beer next to him.
Also on the big screen, all-stars were quizzed on Canadian-isms like the loonie and poutine.
The stars were out. Drake was sitting courtside next to director Spike Lee. Actor Anthony Anderson took a picture of himself on the big screen.
Even Mutombo shook a long leg during a dance sequence.
© 2016 The Canadian Press