Excited fans showed up for the second night of NBA All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles on Saturday. The league’s elite players showcased their skills in a flurry of events. The guards came out on top in the Taco Bells Skills Challenge, with Spencer Dinwiddie going all the way. In the JBL Three-Point Contest, Devin Booker proved with his win that he’s one of the league’s top sharp-shooters. And to end the night, Donovan Mitchell won the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest, throwing down four dunks to remember. There were incredible performances from start to finish by some of the NBA most dynamic players.
Kicking off the night, the Taco Bells Skills Challenge focused on several aspects of a player’s game. It featured dribbling around obstacles, passing the ball through a ring, racing down the court, laying the ball in, then running back down to the other end and pulling up for a three-pointer. In an eight-player field, the competitors faced off against each other until there were two left.
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid came in as a big favorite to win. Like many others, he was excited to be here as an All-Star. “It feels great to be here with these guys as my first time,” he said. “When I found out, I was pretty excited. I’m looking to have fun.” Throughout the regular season, he has shown that he can combine physical athleticism in the paint and great footwork with a nice touch beyond the arc. However, he came up just short in the semifinals.
During the event, many upsets unfolded. Lauri Markkanen defeated Andre Drummond and Embiid to represent the bigs in the finals. And Dinwiddie beat out Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray to represent the guards. Dinwiddie established a big lead over Markkanen with a very efficient run and drained the three-pointer at the end to seal the deal.
After the event, Dinwiddie, who grew up in L.A., said, “It’s big for me to even be at All-Star Weekend considering the road that’s been my career, very up and down. It all really feels and seems full circle because I got to come home and do it in front of my family.”
Next came the Three-Point Contest. In this event, shooters were given 25 total attempts to knock down as many threes as they could. The top three shooters then qualified for the finals.
So what are the keys to success? Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson, the 2016 Three-Point Contest champion, dished on what it takes to get on a hot streak. “We relax, first off,” he explained. “You don’t want to be tense when you shoot that ball. You just want to have your whole body in tune with your hands and your feet. What I’ve learned is that balance is everything. If you want to catch a good rhythm, you just have to get a good balance and a lot of confidence.”
Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder was also ready to go. “I feel great,” he said. “I don’t want to jinx myself, though, come out and air ball the first one. I practiced this time, so I feel good about the event tonight.”
Unfortunately for Paul, he actually may have jinxed himself, as he only scored nine points on the night.
Booker, Thompson, and Tobias Harris found their stroke and qualified for the final round. Thompson did so in dramatic fashion, hitting a buzzer-beating shot that sent him to the finals. Each player put on a show, but it was Booker who won it all with a record 28 points in the last round.
The night ended with the always-entertaining Verizon Slam Dunk Contest. Larry Nance Jr., Victor Oladipo, Dennis Smith Jr., and Mitchell earned their place in the event by establishing themselves as the some of the best dunkers in the league.
Oladipo talked about what the appearance meant to his family. “They were excited,” he said. “It’s crazy because they saw me when I was five years old. I was just a kid with a dream. They’re probably just as amazed as everybody else.”
Each contestant brought something different and original to the table. Nance paid homage to his father, the first ever dunk contest winner, by wearing his dad’s jersey and pulling off his father’s winning dunk.
Oladipo borrowed a Black Panther mask from Michael B. Jordan and cocked the ball behind his head, put it to the side, and threw it down. Smith went between his legs while spinning around, earning a perfect score. And Mitchell jumped over his sister and Kevin Hart, catching the ball on a bounce off the side of the backboard and throwing down a big jam.
After the judges rated their dunks, Nance and Mitchell had the highest combined scores and advanced to the finals. Under pressure, Nance pulled off a double tap dunk, impressing the judges and scoring a perfect 50. But Mitchell was not to be outdone. Needing 47 points to overtake Nance, Mitchell went Vince Carter on everybody. Rocking the retro Raptors’ jersey, he replicated Carter’s signature dunk. The judges awarded him 48 points for the win.
Mitchell’s impressive dunks highlighted the special night. Afterward, he reflected on what he might say to young players who might be paying homage to him one day. “My biggest thing is just staying humble,” said Mitchell. “You’ve got to go out there and just work your butt off because this isn’t promised. I didn’t expect any of this to happen. I was a kid who couldn’t shoot, couldn’t do anything, and just continued to work.”
Saturday’s events provided entertaining performances from the some of the league’s best players. The stage is now set for an exciting matchup between Team LeBron and Team Steph in the 67th NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night. Under a new format, and with charity money on the line, fans and players are excited to see competitive action from the league’s premier players.
Photographs by: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images (Mitchell, Dinwiddie); Philip Pacheco/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images (Booker)