Three Stars of the Night: Volatile Stars Edition

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On a night where the Atlanta Hawks scored 58 points, the Memphis Grizzlies shot 30 percent from the field, and the Orlando Magic lost by 29 points…to the Washington Wizards…we could probably use some offensive outbursts to distract us, right? Well, I’ll tell you what — if it’s outbursts you want, our Three Stars are plenty capable of providing them. When O.J. Mayo (20 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists) is too cool of a customer to join the group, you know we mean business. To the stars!

Third Star: DeMarcus Cousins – (26 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks)

Toss in a flagrant foul and a technical foul to that gaudy line, and tonight’s showing against Cleveland really was the full DeMarcus Cousins experience. Cousins played like a man possessed, bullying through double teams and multiple defenders to show off some sweet spin moves and a nice touch with his baby hook. Although referees have been extra strict with him on the extra curricular stuff, Cousins forced a ton of whistles by leveraging his overwhelming strength advantage against Tyler Zeller and Tristain Thompson. Cousins, who is surprisingly a 77 percent free throw shooter, knocked in all 12 free ones and really showed the skill level that makes him such a hot commodity. There isn’t a thing he can’t do offensively, and there aren’t an awful lot of centers in the NBA who can lay stake to that claim.

 

Second Star: Russell Westbrook – (36 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists)

Westbrook doesn’t get enough praise for being one of the game’s best competitors. How many times have you seen Westbrook aloof or unaffected by what’s going out on the court? The guy has never missed a game in his NBA career and he plays his heart out every time he takes the floor. No one should be as jacked up about a third quarter fast break conversion in a game in January against the Phoenix Suns as Westbrook is. It’s a little frightening, actually, but I guess it’s not as scary as he is to opposing defenses when that jumper is falling. That stop on a dime pull-up J from the free throw line is virtually impossible to stop, and Westbrook hit about 6 or 7 shots right in that area en route to his big scoring night. If that shot ever becomes as consistent as Westbrook’s energy and effort level is on a nightly basis, head for the hills.

First Star: Rajon Rondo – (17 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists)

No player in the league is quite as mercurial as Rajon Rondo. He’ll float through games, not giving you much, and then all of the sudden he’ll snap into takeover mode where he’s pulling off fake around-the-back passes for layups. It’s confusing and a little unpredictable, but that’s Rondo. This was sort of the “take care of business” Rondo we saw tonight — his 8-for-11 shooting was tidy and efficient, and his 26th career triple-double was bare bones, yet still fulfilling. I’m not sure why any team would ever hedge on Rondo in a pick-and-roll, but he split the pick multiple times before turning Charlotte’s backline defenders into statues.

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.