Zach LaVine’s big moment this All-Star Weekend was supposed to be his performance in Saturday’s dunk contest. That’s still likely to be the case, but the Minnesota Timberwolves guard offered a pretty excellent opening act with an MVP performance in Friday’s BBVA Rising Stars Challenge.
LaVine scored 30 points to help lead Team USA to a 157-154 win over Team World in a characteristically defense-averse contest. He had plenty of opportunities for amazing dunks, although it did sometimes appear as if he was holding back so as not to give too much away of what he has planned for Saturday night.
Nevertheless, LaVine made it a point to assert himself all game long. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, because he made it clear earlier in the day that he intended to capture MVP honors:
It should not come as a surprise that LaVine was not the only player to put up big numbers in a game that’s never featured much defense. Team USA guards Jordan Clarkson (25 points on 8-of-20 FG) and Devin Booker (23 on 5-of-8 from deep) added notable lines in the win, but it was Team World who had more top-level individual performers. Kristaps Porzingis (30 points on 12-of-16 FG and 5-of-8 3FG), Andrew Wiggins (29 points on 13-of-15 FG), and Emmanuel Mudiay (30 points and 10 assists) were all efficient and put on great shows.
Gaudy scoring numbers aside, this was one of the most atypical games in the history of the event. It was a one-possession game in the final few possessions, which means that players and coaches began to take it very seriously. Team USA took a timeout to avoid a five-second call on an inbounds pass, and Team World fouled to extend the game on the proceeding play. Hell, there was even a replay review to decide a critical out-of-bounds call.
It was a long way from the elbow passes we’re used to seeing. Thankfully, Jabari Parker restored sanity with a very fitting dagger — a dunk right in the face of Porzingis:
That was a close one. We almost had to treat the Rising Stars Challenge like a real basketball game.