The Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the Footlock Three-Point Contest and the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. That was Damian Lillard’s schedule at All-Star Saturday night in New Orleans. After a week of build up to his historic night — he’s the first player to compete in five events at All-Star Weekend — Lillard responded by winning the Skills Challenge, missing out on the final of the Three-Point Shootout by one point and being eliminated by Toronto’s Terrence Ross, a Portland native, in the Dunk Contest.
“I was happy to just be invited to all of them and be able to compete in them,” said Lillard. “I wanted to win at least one and I won the first one and I thought that would be some momentum to continue and try to win all three of them, but I feel short in the three-point contest. As you all saw, in the dunk contest they kind of just out-classed us. I’m just happy that I was able to compete in all of them.”
Lillard start the night off on the right foot, winning the Taco Bell Skills Challenge for the second consecutive time. The rules where different in this year’s contest, with players competing as a team rather than individuals with the first. And as was the case with all of the Saturday events, players were separated by conferences.
Lillard was teamed up with Jazz rookie Trey Burke and the point guard duo finished the first round time of 40.6 seconds, beating out the team of Reggie Jackson and Goran Dragic by 1.7 seconds.
Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo advanced out of the Eastern bracket with a first round time of 43.3 seconds.
Carter-Williams and Oladipo went first in the final round and turned in a time of 45.3 seconds. Lillard and Burke struggled with both the shooting and passing drill in the final, but still managed to come away victorious with a time of 45.2 seconds, just a tenth of a second faster than the rookie team from the East.
“I started to hear the crowd,” said Burke. “You continue to glance up at the clock to see how much time you’ve got. I just tried to get there as quick as possible. I looked up and I thought we tied, but Dame told me that we ended up winning. It was a good experience.”
Next up, the Three-Point Contest, which also featured a new wrinkle in that players were given one full rack of “money balls” each worth two points. Lillard chose to put his money ball rack at the second station and ended up going 14 for 25 for 18 points, which was two points better than Minnesota’s Kevin Love.
“I decided to put it on the left wing because that’s the spot I’m most comfortable shooting from,” said Lillard of his money ball rack placement. “I kept telling myself I needed to make at least four out of five of them and I think I made three or four.”
Unfortunately, San Antonio’s Marco Belinelli surpassed Lillard’s score with 19 points, which he didn’t secure until his last shot. Lillard ended up with the third-best score of the first round, but only the top finisher from each conference moved on to the final.
“It came down to the last shot,” said Lillard. “The one that I missed, that could have put me in the final, but I missed it.”
Belinelli would end up defeating Washington’s Bradley Beal with 24 points in the tiebreaker round after both players finished the final with 19 points.
The caper to the night was the dunk contest, which also featured changes in format from previous years. Dunkers competed in teams, starting off with ah 90-second “freestyle” round, which allowed dunkers an unlimited amount of tries.
Lillard was teamed up with Golden State’s Harrison Barnes and Sacramento’s Ben McLemore. Lillard missed his first dunk, a between-the-legs one-handed finish, but made it on the second attempt in what was one of the better dunks of the contest. But there wasn’t much cohesion between Lillard, Barnes and McLemore didn’t come together, and the East team of Paul George, John Wall and Terrence Ross took the first round.
“I thought my dunks were good,” said Lillard. “I think we came out rusty to start. We missed a few dunks, we didn’t execute how we did in practice, we just stuck with it. I think
we kind of freestyled a little bit toward the end just because what we went over didn’t work right away. (The East), like I said, they came out ready and they put down some nice dunks.”
In the second “dunk battle” round, Lillard pulled off a 360 dunk on his second try, but was bested by Ross, who brought out adult contemporary rapper Drake to hold the ball for his between-the-legs dunk. Ross missed his first two tries before completing the dunk on the third attempt. Despite that, Ross won the votes of Dominique Wilkins and Dr. J, which gave Ross the win despite Magic Johnson voting for Lillard.
The East would eventually win the contest, with Wall being named the “Dunker of the Night.”
Lillard now has just one more event, the actual 2014 NBA All-Star Game, to complete his five-event weekend.
That’s the ultimate goal, to become an All-Star in the NBA and win championships. Being able to play in that big game is big to me, and I’m excited about it.”