The Miami Heat almost swept the festivities for the 2020 NBA All-Star Saturday night in Chicago as Bam Adebayo and Derrick Jones Jr won the skills challenge and dunk contest in one of the best nights in recent memory.
The term “positionless” Basketball has dominated the discussion around the modern NBA. The idea was that by putting five players on the court that could all dribble, pass and shoot it would make it nearly impossible for the defense to guard everyone.
Well, since 2016 when big men were added to the Taco Bell NBA Skills Challenge, we’ve experienced this revolution first hand during NBA All-Star weekend. Entering tonight’s competition, two of the last four winners were centers (Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis). Let’s just say, history repeated itself tonight.
In the opening round, where the competitors are matched up in four small versus big pairings, it was all bigs that advanced into the second round. Bam Adebayo took down the 2018 champion Spencer Dinwiddie. Pascal Siakam defeated hometown hero, Patrick Beverley. Khris Middleton — who I guess was determined to be a big by default — surged past Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Finally, Domantas Sabonis upset Jayson Tatum, the reigning champion.
The second round brought some tight finishes. Adebayo and Siakam were neck and neck throughout their run and both missed their first 3-point attempt but it was Adebayo who would sink his second attempt to move on. The first-time All-Star from the Miami Heat would face another first-timer as Sabonis bear Middleton.
The Milwaukee Bucks All-Star had a Shaqtin’ A Fool moment as he completely lost the ball while dribbling down the floor for his layup.
The two even knocked each other’s 3-pointers out of the air as they rushed to be the first to make it. Ultimately, Sabonis drained it.
The final had an interesting twist as TNT had Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller and Heat legend Dwyane Wade on the call so each got to root for the newest face of their franchises.
Adebayo would not be stopped though and he got off to a great start and never looked back on his way to claiming victory.
MTN DEW 3-Point Contest
The MTN DEW 3-Point Contest changed the competition this season. With more and more players shooting from deeper and deeper, they added two new spots — stationed at 29’9” beside the top of the key — that were worth three points each.
With the two leaders in 30-foot makes (Damian Lillard and Trae Young) part of the original field, it seemed like a great time for the addition. However, an injury knocked Dame out of the field and Young, who went first, missed both of his attempts.
As a whole, the participants went 8/22 (36.4 percent) from the new spots. Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte Graham made the first-ever shot from the Dew Zone.
Things got off to a slow start as none of the first three contestants (Young, Graham and Duncan Robinson) were able to eclipse the 20-point plateau. Then, it was Devin Booker’s turn. Lillard’s replacement scorched the nets — and made both of his shots from the Dew Zone — on his way to 27, which was the night’s highest point total.
Buddy Hield would match that with 27 points of his own, which included him going a perfect five-for-five on his money ball rack. Hield also chose to begin in the right corner whereas every other shooter went from left to right.
Last year’s champion, Joe Harris would put up 22. Chicago’s own Zach LaVine would one up that (literally) with a 23. Yet, Davis Bertans sank 26 and he ended up securing the last spot in the final round.
As the low man in the trio, Bertans went first and netted a respectable 22. However, Booker didn’t cool off during his break and poured in 26 points to put all the pressure on Hield.
As the saying goes, pressure makes diamonds and Hield shined bright when he needed to most. He entered the final rack, which he had used as his money ball rack in both rounds, trailing Booker by seven points. He would drill four of his final five shots with the most important being his last one which put him atop the leaderboard with 27
Hield would say afterward that he is dedicating the victory to the country of the Bahamas, his native home.
AT&T Slam Dunk Contest
The night culminated with the most-anticipated event of the evening. Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic made his return to the AT&T Slam Dunk Contest after putting on a spectacular show in 2016 against Zach LaVine. Through props and sheer hops, Gordon made a name for himself and cemented his place in aerial history. His status remained perfect among viewers as he opened the night with back-to-back scores of 50 on his first-round dunk attempts.
Also coming back, was Dwight Howard who has had a rejuvenating season with the Los Angeles Lakers through the first half of the year. However, Superman was not in the building tonight but Clark Kent did put on an impressive showing at 34-years-old. He donned the cape and slammed home a special snakeskin ball in memory of Kobe Bryant before bowing out in the first round.
Pat Connaughton entered the competition as an afterthought but quickly became a fan favorite. For his first dunk, he put on his best Billy Hoyle costume and showed that white men can jump as he soared over National League MVP, Christian Yelich. The fans were not pleased with his score of 45. Knowing the judges wanted more, he brought out reigning NBA MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo. As all of Milwaukee held its breath, Connaughton (and his 44-inch vertical jump) skied over Antetokounmpo and tapped the ball off the backboard before slamming it home to earn a 50.
His night would end there though as the Miami Heat’s Derrick Jones Jr. (aka Airplane Mode) would secure the second spot in the finals after jumping over the Skills Challenge champion (Adebayo) and the putting home a dunk that was nicknamed as the “tornado” by Kenny Smith.
Things got even better in the finals as Jones and Gordon went tit-for-tat with different 50-point dunks. We had two never before seen things occur in the history of the contest go down. First, Gordon brought out TikTok celebrities to dance as he dunked in the background. Then, Jones pulled off a dunk that has never been done in the contest. He had someone throw him a lob off the backboard, then he jumped over the passer to catch the pass and ended it with a between the legs finish.
With things still, even, the contest went to a dunk-off. Gordon played to the crowd by bringing out Chance the Rapper for the third time and easily jumped over the artist to slam home a between the legs dunk. Jones borrowed a move from Gordon and had Markelle Fultz toss him a pass off the side of the backboard that he finished off with a between the legs dunk.
Each had one more dunk left before the event would be decided by judges’ choice — which I don’t understand how it’s much different from what we had just watched — and by then it became noticeable that both players were at their wit’s end.
Jones flushed down a windmill from just inside the free-throw line, which ended the streak of the 50s as the judges gave him a 48.
On the fly, Gordon spotted Tacko Fall (the tallest player in the league at 7-foot-5) among the players in attendance and brought him out to finish the contest. He was able to cleanly jump over him and put in a two-handed slam. Most felt like that was the dunk that would seal a victory for Gordon.
Rumor has it the judges agreed that it would end in a tie. However, when the scores were revealed, Gordon finished with a 47, which meant he had once again got the short end of a stick in a dunk off and also meant Jones would be champion. Not a bad birthday gift for the high-flyer.