Feb 15, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Portland Trailblazers guard Damian Lillard (0) dunks during the 2014 NBA All Star dunk contest at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Damian Lillard Falls, East Wins Slam Dunk Contest

Damian Lillard needed two attempts in the deciding “Battle” round to complete his dunk which wasn’t enough to win his matchup, and the East dominated the West in the 2014 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. The individual winner, as voted by the fans, was John Wall for his Wizards mascot-assisted dunk.

The 2014 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest had a new format this year. In years past, it had been pretty straightforward. Each player was given a score for each dunk, and the contest progressed accordingly.

This year, there would be no individual scoring, and the individual winner was determined by a vote by fans.

Rather, the judges (Magic Johnson, Julius Erving, and Dominique Wilkins), determined which “team” would win between the three players from the East (Paul George of the Indiana Pacers, Terrence Ross of the Toronto Raptors, and John Wall of the Washington Wizards), and the three players from the West (Harrison Barnes of the Golden State Warriors, Ben McLemore of the Sacramento Kings, and, of course, our very own Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers).

With the six competitors split into East and West teams, the contest started with a “Freestyle” round, where each team had 90 seconds to complete as many dunks as possible. From there, the judges determined whether the East or the West won the round.

The point, as I see it, was to let the players warm up and to feel at ease either with experimenting with new dunks, or with making a few errors without taking an inordinate amount of time.

The second round, called the “Battle” round, pitted one player from the East and one from the West against each other in a one-on-one battle. The loser of each battle was eliminated, and the team winner was determined when either team gained three wins.

Play-by-play

The East started the Freestyle round. Ross’ first dunk was a double-pump reverse, and his teammates followed with windmill, then a missed dunk… They then went into a “360” windmill, an off-the-ground windmill, a missed dunk, then a side dunk from another player, into yet another dunk missed after being passed to the dunker from 2 players, and an off-the-backboard from another player to end the round.

Then it was the West’s turn. Lillard kicked it off for his team, missing his first dunk after having it passed to him from two teammates, then McLemore made the second dunk. Lillard tried to go between the legs but failed… then his teammates got a few more in. Refusing to be deterred by two missed dunks, Lillard bounced it off the ground, went between the legs again, and NAILED it. Pretty impressive for a guy who’s 6’3’’ with shoes on.

Barnes and McLemore didn’t have anything too impressive after that, and Lillard finished with a bounced-off-the-ground 180 sideways dunk to end the round.

It then went to the judges, and while Wilkins gave props to Lillard for being a smaller player and going between the legs, he voted for the East, as did Magic, who wanted the West to start the next round like they finished the first. Dr. J also went with the East, who ended up sweeping the first round.

That meant the East got to call who would go first and who would go last in the Battle round.

Lillard went first, to face Ross. Lillard tried a spinning, reverse, one-handed lefty jam, and missed the first, but hit the second. His head got awful close to the rim, but frankly, his dunk didn’t look that impressive in real time.

Ross came out in a cape, accompanied by music artist and songwriter Drake to set up Ross’ dunk. Positioning Drake near the hoop holding the ball, Ross came streaking in, went between the legs… and missed the dunk. They reset, and he missed the same dunk again. They reset once more, and Ross nailed it.

The announcers noted, correctly, that the energy goes out of the building when you don’t hit a dunk on the first try. This would become a theme for the rest of the night. With Lillard succeeding in two tries and Ross needing three, Blazers fans were hoping that Lillard would get some love. Wilkins disagreed, going with Ross. Johnson bucked the trend, and went with Lillard. Dr. J, with the deciding vote, eliminated Lillard by picking Ross.

I think that missing dunks should be penalized, but that’s not how the new format rewards players. Such is life.

Next up was Harrison Barnes against Paul George. Barnes attempted a weak, poorly-coordinated, pumped-over-the-head windmill dunk which he wiffed, and tried the same dunk again with the same result. On his last try, he limited his range of motion to ensure he’d nail it, but as the announcers (again correctly) noted, it looked like a “game dunk” and not something appropriate for a dunk contest.

George then went for a 360 between-the-legs dunk, flailing wide and looking impressive, but he missed the first, with the crowd audibly disappointed. George ended up with four attempts (the second ruled as not a true attempt by the judges), and connected on his last. However, he also limited his range of motion, technically completing the dunk, but without the flair of his first few attempts.

The judges unanimously agreed that the East won that round too, which left McLemore against Wall.

McLemore came out in a stupid monarch-looking robe, flaunted by Shaq and some dude who offered a poor English accent to declare that “Shaq-cremento” would be known as “Shaq-lemore.” Any time you need a gimmick to start your dunk, you’re toast, in my humble opinion.

McLemore then lined up on the midcourt sideline with Shaq sitting in a throne under the basket, and proceed to clank the simple, no-frills, straight-ahead dunk. It was embarrassing. He hit the second, but the damage was done.

Wall started by positioning the Wizards’ mascot (which looks a lot like the Greendale Community College “Human Being” mascot from the show “Community”) under the basket. The mascot held the ball above their head and stood tall. Wall then jumped over the mascot (who was not crouching), grabbed the ball, pumped it, and slammed home the reverse, flushing what was clearly the dunk of the night, if not anything close to the best dunk of NBA Dunk Contests in years past.

The judges agreed, giving the dunk, and the competition, to the East.

The individual winner, as it should have been, was John Wall for bringing home the only dunk that had any place in an NBA Dunk Contest.

The epilogue should be short and sweet: this was a bad dunk contest, one of the worst in recent memory, if not THE worst. The format makes no sense, and there was little to no excitement in the building. If the NBA wants people to take the Dunk Contest seriously, they need to bring back the individual format in some form, perhaps giving more attempts while not allowing more than one dunk per attempt to eliminate missed dunks and penalize those unable to connect on their tries.

All in all, it was a disappointing end to NBA All-Star Saturday.

 

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Tags: Damian Lillard NBA All-Star Weekend Portland Trail Blazers Slam Dunk Contest

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