Three Stars of the Night: Dirty Work Edition

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Ugly players need love, too. For tonight’s Three Stars, we’ve got one of the nastiest looking jumpers you’ll ever see, a player who treats the paint like an island and everywhere else on the floor as molten lava, and a reformed grinder turning himself into a top scorer. Put on that hulking knee brace, grab your goggles and pop in your mouthpiece – it’s about to get ugly in the Three Stars of the Night.

Third Star: Kenneth Faried (15 points, 8 rebounds, 23 minutes played)

Kenneth Faried can’t dribble, pass or shoot, which would typically be a problem for just about every player ever. After all, those are kind of important things. But what makes Faried unique is that his skills are a lot less accessible than other players. You can see great footwork, or a picture perfect jumper, but things like “motor” and “nose for the ball” aren’t as easy to identify. Simply put, Faried just eats glass, and he does it with such an unmatched vigor that he’ll always have a place in the league. He only played 23 minutes tonight, but it must have felt like more to the Pistons frontcourt that he singlehandedly wore down.

Second Star: Arron Afflalo (28 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists)

While he was in Denver, Afflalo’s development as an offensive player was slow and steady. He improved gradually every year, adding new little wrinkles to his game to supplement his excellent outside shooting. Now in Orlando, with little help around him, Afflalo has been asked to make a big leap – and if tonight’s performance against Chicago’s is any indication, Afflalo is taking it in stride. The 28 points are impressive, but add in the fact that Afflalo was playing without a point guard and didn’t turn it over a single time against one of the best defenses and basketball, and this will likely go down as one of the more underrated individual offensive performances of the season.

First Star: Joakim Noah (20 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 blocks)

How could something so wrong be so right? Noah’s two-handed, push shot, sidewinder jumper is a total “don’t try this at home” shot, but it falls at an alarming rate. No, really. Noah shot 43 percent from 16-23 feet last year and nearly 75 percent from the line. Although he only burned the Magic a couple of times from distance, every uncorking of that jumper feels like a banked halfcourt shot and has the same deflating effect on defenses. Between that and his five blocked shots, Noah provided more than a handful of momentum altering plays in the best of contest of the night.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.