In between the first and second round of the NBA’s slam dunk contest Saturday night, NBA Hall of Famer and dunking icon Dominique Wilkins took the court, highlights from his two previous wins playing on the scoreboard above. When Wilkins battled with Michael Jordan, people were on the edge of their seats, waiting to erupt the second the ball got thrown through the basket.
There were moments just like that Saturday too — they just had nothing to do with slam dunks.
The marquee event, maybe of the entire weekend, saw Golden State’s Stephen Curry lose to Brooklyn’s Joe Harris in the finals of NBA’s three-point contest. Curry made nine consecutive shots to open the final round before cooling off while Harris, who was nearly out of the NBA before finding a place in Brooklyn, closed out his round by making all five “money” balls on the final rack.
“It’s a make-or-miss league, a make-or-miss competition. It’s a tough way to end it, but Joe shot the lights out,” Curry said. “It was a great show. Knowing how strong the field was going into this, whoever won was going to have to earn it, and that’s what happened.”
The 10 players in the NBA’s marquee shooting contest were the most accomplished competitors of the night.
Some, such as Curry, Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Charlotte’s Kemba Walker, will participate in the All-Star game Sunday. Others like Phoenix’s Devin Booker and Sacramento’s Buddy Hield could be All-Stars sometime soon. And another, Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki, undoubtedly will end up in the Hall of Fame.
The quality of the contestants makes sense when you consider the way the NBA has changed in the last five years, with the three-point shot the primary weapon in the game. A great dunk — a truly jaw-dropping dunk — happens once a night. An impossibly difficult step-back three or a 35-footer? Those happen every game.
“People aren’t just shooting threes anymore, catch-and-shooting,” Lillard said. “They’re off the dribble. They’re contested. They’re from deep, way behind the line. It’s two in a row. Three in a row. People enjoy seeing people get hot.”
And people enjoyed watching Curry and Harris torch the nets in Charlotte.
Harris opened the contests by making 17 of 25 shots for 25 points, including a stretch of eight in a row to finish. Curry outdueled him later in the first round, scoring 27 points by making 19 of 25 shots, including 10 consecutive to finish.
Harris set the bar in the championship round by scoring another 26 — including a stretch where he made 12 in a row that moved from the right corner all the way to the top of the key. Curry tried to answer when he made his first nine shots in the finals before coming up two points short of forcing a shoot-off.
Hield finished third in the finals with 19 points after scoring a second-best 26 in the first round.
“Obviously, it’s incredible,” Harris said. “Steph is the greatest shooter of all time.”
Harris, for one contest, was just a little better.
Diallo captures dunk title
None of this is to say that there weren’t highlights in the slam dunk contest.
He scored a perfect 50, one of three awarded in the contest, on his way to a win in finals over New York’s Dennis Smith Jr.
Without access to someone as mountainous as O’Neal, Diallo and his partners had to try to simulate O’Neal’s massive frame before the competition.
“It was tough. My man, Chuck [Millan] from Team Flight Brothers, we tried a bunch of things. We tried having people stand, putting basketballs on top of them, just to make sure I could clear the shot,” Diallo said. “So it was tough…” But “I was definitely sure. I wouldn’t have brought him out there if I wasn’t sure.”
Tatum shows skills
Boston’s Jayson Tatum, the subject of trade rumors in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, hit one of the biggest shots of the night in the first competition, sinking a half-court prayer to stun Atlanta rookie Trae Young in the skills challenge.
The event requires players to weave through a course that ends with a made three-point shot.
Young jumped out to a big lead over Tatum, but before he could even attempt a contest-winning shot, Tatum fired from beyond mid-court.
“I didn’t want to give Trae a chance,” Tatum said. “I honestly didn’t know I was going to hit the shot, but I had to give myself a chance, throw it up there, and it worked out for the best.”
The win capped a strong weekend for Tatum, Boston’s second-year forward, that also saw him score 30 points in Team USA’s win Friday night in the Rising Stars game.
Kevin Durant of Team LeBron and Stephen Curry of Team Giannis have different reactions to a play during the NBA All-Star game.(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
Kevin Durant is awarded the NBA All-Star game MVP trophy after Team LeBron’s 178-164 win over Team Giannis.(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
Stephen Curry of Team Giannis throws a behind-the-back pass while on a fast break during the NBA All-Star game.(Jeff Siner / Charlotte Observer)
Team captain LeBron James drives down the lane between Blake Griffin, left, and Kemba Walker of Team Giannis during the first half of the NBA All-Star game.(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
Magic Johnson speaks with fans on the court during the second half of the NBA All-Star game.(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
Miami star Dwyane Wade reacts to a play during the NBA All-Star game.(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
Team captain Giannis Antetokounmpo throws down a reverse dunk during the first half of the NBA All-Star game.(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
LeBron James reacts to a play during the first quarter of the NBA All-Star game.(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns of Team LeBron throws down a dunk over opposing team captain Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks.(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
Heat guard Dwyane Wade of Team LeBron follows through on a three-point shot during the first half of the NBA All-Star game.(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
Warriors forward Kevin Durant of Team LeBron grabs a rebound during the second half of the NBA All-Star game. Durant was selected most valuable player of the game.(Gerry Broome / Associated Press)
Rapper J. Cole performs at halftime of the NBA All-Star game.(Gerry Broome / Associated Press)
Warriors forward Kevin Durant of Team LeBron checks rival team captain Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks during the first half of the NBA All-Star game.(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
Warriors guard Stephen Curry of Team Gainnis is all smiles as he catches his breath during a break in play at the NBA All-Star game.(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
Lakers forward LeBron James and All-Star game teammate James Harden of the Rockets relax during a break in the action at the NBA All-Star game on Sunday.(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
Rapper Meek Mill performs before the NBA All-Star gameon Sunday.(Gerry Broome / Associated Press)
Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker, right, leans down to hug children along the baseline during Team Giannis practice on Saturday.(Jeff Siner / Charlotte Observer / TNS)
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Hamidou Diallo hangs on the rim after leaping Shaquille O’Neal and dunking elbow deep on the rim.(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
Thunder guard Hamidou Diallo is congratulated after a dunk by teammate Russell Westbrook.(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
Thunder guard Hamidou Diallo rises over rapper Quavo for a dunk during the championship round.(Jeff Siner / Charlotte Observer / TNS)
Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins grabs the backboard while soaring for a dunk.(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
New York Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. elevates to the rim for a dunk.(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges attempts a dunk after passing the ball through his legs.(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
Brooklyn’s Joe Harris holds the trophy after winning the three-point contest.(Gerry Broome / Associated Press)
Warriors guard Stephen Curry lines up a shot during the three-point contest.(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard reaches for the next basketball he will shoot during the three-point contest.(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma holds aloft the MVP trophy for the Rising Stars game after he scored a game-high 35 points.(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
Clippers guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander tries to steal the ball from Knicks forward Kevin Knox during the Rising Stars game.(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
Dallas Maverics owner Mark Cuban, center, sits with newly acquired forward Kristaps Porzingis during the Rising Stars game.(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma elevates for a dunk during the Rising Stars game.(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
Raptors forward OG Anunoby takes flight for a between-the-legs dunk during the Rising Stars game.(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
WNBA star A’ja Wilson gets past Bad Bunny (94) for a layup during the second half of the celebrity game.(Gerry Broome / Associated Press)
Home team coach Dawn Staley, left, speaks with assistant coach Lisa Boyer, middle, and A’ja Wilson (22) during the second half of the celebrity game.(Gerry Broome / Associated Press)
Former NFL star Steve Smith drives to the basket for a shot against TV show host Hasan Minhaj during the celebrity game.(Jeff Siner / TNS)
Actor JB Smoove fights for rebounding position with NBA Hall of Famer Ray Allen during the celebrity game.(Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)