Live updates from Charlotte:
— Needing a 43 to win, Diallo brought out Quavo from Migos and stationed the rapper on the low block with the ball over his head. Diallo took the ball from Quavo with two hands, rocked it windmill style, and finished with both hands to triumphantly hang on the rim. The judges gave him a 45, making him the narrow winner, and the crowd wasted little time pouring to the exits.
Paging Zion Williamson: save this thing in Chicago next year.
— DSJ’s fourth and final attempt involved both Dwyane Wade and Steph Curry. Smith wanted to vault off Wade’s back to catch a lob from Curry, but he couldn’t get high enough to finish it until his fourth or fifth attempt. All the earlier missed dunks seemed to catch up with him as he showed tired legs but somehow the judges gave him a 50. Scattered boos rained down.
— Sensing the contest was his for the taking, Diallo threw himself a high lob and seemed like he wanted to kiss the rim, but instead just finished with a simple right-handed slam. The springs were there, but not the creativity. The judges gave him 43, a little high for such a safe effort.
— Smith’s third effort should have been him at his best, spinning the wrong way to go through the legs for a lefty finish. Unfortunately, he needed three or four attempts and still couldn’t get it to go down. He opted for a panicky backup, tossing a self lob that he banged too hard off the back rim. A disastrous start to the final round. The judges charitably gave him 35/50.
— Diallo might be relatively anonymous, but he doesn’t lack ambition in the slightest. With his second dunk, the NYC native jumped OVER Shaquille O’Neal and finished with the classic Vince Carter elbow dunk while ripping his jersey to reveal a Superman logo across his chest. The Spectrum Center genuinely liked that one. A 50 was the only option.
Diallo (98) and Smith (95) advance to the finals. Collins and Bridges go home.
— Smith counters with the heavy hitter: North Carolina’s own J. Cole. DSJ donned the rapper’s high school jersey and leaped over J. Cole, converting a simple lob into a smooth one-handed slam on his first try. Smith cocked it back far, drawing oohs and aahs on the slow-motion replay. The judges gave the best dunk of the night (so far) a perfect 50. Collins’s night is officially over.
— It’s time for the props! Collins got creative by placing a Wright Brothers, Kitty Hawk inspired classic plane on the court. Collins’s teammate, Trae Young, helped him done a pilot’s hat and goggles to go with a scarf. The execution wasn’t quite as flawless as the concept. He cleared the plane to finish the dunk, but clipped it on the way down. The judges weren’t having it, dishing out a stingy 42.
— Bridges rebounded from his first dunk mess with help from a Kemba Walker alley-oop off the side of the backboard and a vintage Larry Johnson Hornets jersey. He finished the 360 on his first try, drawing a (somewhat generous) 50.
— The big concern with Miles Bridges is that he might be a better in-game dunker than contest dunker. The posterization specialist tossed the ball off the backboard to himself, hoping to set up a through-the-legs lefty try, but he couldn’t get it down in three tries. He got a 33 and will likely be eliminated. This contest is teetering on the verge of a bust.
— Dennis Smith Jr. tried to start with a bang, but he missed his first three tries on a 360 slam that he set up with a self alley-oop. The judges rewarded his persistence with a 45, as they are instructed not to take into account misses. The crowd still hasn’t woken up yet.
— The Thunder’s Hamidou Diallo, the no-name wild card in the field, called in some superstar help from Russell Westbrook, who tossed a lob off the glass to set up a clean lefty windmill. 48/50.
— Collins opened things up with a swooping, backboard-touching slam but the crowd wasn’t really feeling it. 40/50
— The courtside seats are filling up with NBA legends as the Slam Dunk Contest approaches. George Gervin, Julius Erving, Dikembe Mutombo, David Robinson, Dominique Wilkins, Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace, and Charles Barkley are all braced for impact.
Meanwhile, Hornets legend Alonzo Mourning and former winner Dee Brown are among this year’s judges.
This year’s Dunk Contest field isn’t very star-studded, but John Collins (Wake Forest), Dennis Smith Jr. (Fayetteville native and N.C. State) and Miles Bridges (Hornets forward) all have North Carolina ties.
— Upset alert! Although Stephen Curry blistered at the start by making nine in a row, he cooled off and finished with 22. That makes Joe Harris, with a score of 26, the 2019 three-point contest winner. Surprisingly, no one in this arena booed Harris for taking down both Curry sons.
Harris: 18,000 Instagram followers
Curry: 24 million Instagram followers
— Down goes the champ. Devin Booker reached 23 but not the top 3. After his final rack, Booker looks shocked. Even rapper Quavo, standing behind him on courtside, appeared as if his world will never be the same after watching the champ lose his crown. Stephen Curry, Buddy Hield and Joe Harris are your final four.
— Well, the next Curry family Thanksgiving will be awkward. Big brother Stephen dominated the first round — making his last 10 (!) shots, including the final rack of money balls — to take the lead with 27.
— From the Dallas Mavericks, one of the greatest power forwards to ever step on the court . . . Dirk Nowitzki deserved the special introduction from the Pa. announcer but there will be no happy send-off for the retiring legend. Dirk’s 17 wasn’t enough to make the next round. On to Charlotte’s favorite son: Stephen Curry.
— Here’s a sentence rarely uttered in a basketball story: A Sacramento Kings player has taken the lead. Buddy Hield tallied 26 to become your new leader over Harris. And in the process, Charlotte’s son Seth Curry has been eliminated.
— After winning the Skills Challenge, which is sponsored by everyone’s favorite purveyor of Chalupas, Jayson Tatum, who can count ‘Taco Jay’ among his nickname, told reporters: “I’m going to call Taco Bell tomorrow and tell them I need a deal. I need to be on the commercial. I love tacos.”
— Aside from the sweet-shooting Joe Harris, who poured in 25 points to start things off, the first batch of contestants started cold. First-time all-star Khris Middleton managed just 11 points, Kemba Walker scored 15 while drawing applause from the Charlotte faithful, and Seth Curry topped out at 16.
— NBA legend Bill Russell just arrived to take a courtside seat next to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Now the show can officially begin. And in a plot twist that no one (read: everyone) saw coming, Dell Curry is going through the three-point contest, along with retired marksmen Ray Allen, Mark Price and former Charlotte Hornets all-star Glen Rice. While the four legendary shooters tossed up more far bricks than swishes, they combined to raise $35,000 for charity.
— Dell Curry, Stephen Curry and Seth Curry are all at center court, which means the three-point contest is about to get underway. It’s been amazing to see dozens of retro Dell Curry jerseys around town this weekend.
— THE LUCK OF THE IRISH! Boston’s Jayson Tatum wins the crown by nailing a shot from half-court.
While Trae Young has built his rookie reputation on hitting from way downtown but Tatum beat him at his own game. Tatum, like a good son, shouts out his mom after the win. Next up, the three-point shooting contest.
— Luka Doncic has the passing skills and the cool shots but apparently lacks speed. Doncic treated his semifinal matchup with Trae Young as a Saturday morning run at the Y and slowly navigated the obstacle course. Easy work for Young against the fellow rookie for whom he was traded on draft night, and now he faces Jayson Tatum for the skills crown.
— And your Skills Challenge Final Four: Denver’s Nikola Jokic will take on the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum while rookies Trae Young of the Hawks will go head to head with Dallas’s Luka Doncic.
— Trae Young for the win! In a comeback for the ages (or actually, the moment), Young had difficulty hitting the passing target but defeated De’Aaron Fox with a running three-pointer to complete the obstacle course.
— Here at all-star Saturday night, the bigs have completed the skills obstacle course. Two Nikolas have entered — Jokic and Vucevic — but only one Nikola, the Nuggets big man, will leave. Next up: some guard play.
CHARLOTTE — Don’t be fooled by the lack of household names in the NBA slam dunk contest, the all-star Saturday night lineup is loaded with star power and intrigue.
The league’s annual showcase of the best dribblers, shooters and dunkers is Saturday night from Charlotte’s Spectrum Center, airing live on TNT.
As always, the Dunk Contest will be the main attraction, even though this year’s four-man field is high on potential and low on name recognition. The headliner is New York Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr., a highflying guard from nearby Fayetteville, N.C., best known for being included in the return package in the trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks.
Joining Smith, who is viewed by bookmakers as the favorite, will be Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges, Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Hamidou Diallo. Bridges has thrown down some vicious poster dunks during his rookie season, Collins tossed in multiple double-clutch reverse slams during the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, and Diallo is the ultimate wild card, having logged just 515 minutes so far in his first NBA season.
The four dunkers will each get two dunks in the first round. The top two will advance to the final round, where each will get two more dunks to determine the champion. All dunks will be rated on a 6-10 scale by a panel of five judges, with a perfect dunk earning a coveted “50.”
The stars are much brighter in the three-point contest, which features two-time MVP Stephen Curry and his younger brother Seth. The Charlotte natives will be competing alongside all-stars Damian Lillard, Khris Middleton, Dirk Nowitzki and Kemba Walker, plus the contest’s defending champion Devin Booker. Danny Green, Joe Harris and Buddy Hield round out the 10-man field.
Each player will shoot 25 three-pointers — five each from both corners, both angles and the top of the arc — in 60 seconds. Four of the five racks will include one “money ball,” worth double points; the remaining rack will feature all money balls and can be located at the spot of the player’s choosing. The top three finishers in the first round will advance to the final round, where they will shoot again to determine a champion. Oddsmakers view Stephen Curry, the 2015 contest champion, as the favorite.
The night begins with the skills challenge, a complex obstacle course that includes dribbling, passing, agility and shooting components. Its eight-man field includes rookie sensations Luka Doncic and Trae Young, plus all-stars Nikola Jokic and Nikola Vucevic. Mike Conley, De’Aaron Fox, Kyle Kuzma and Jayson Tatum round out the diverse field.
The eight contestants will face off in a head-to-head bracket format, with four advancing to the semifinals and two going on to the finals, where the champion will be crowned.
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