In one of the more entertaining Rising Stars Challenges from stem to glass-breaking stern, the ‘Team Hill’ faction of the rookie/sophomore selections defeated the ‘Team Webber’ side of the ledger by a 142-136 score on Friday night. For once, the contest was close throughout, with neither team taking on more than a two possession lead for most of the contest, as the Grant Hill-selected group, led by eventual MVP Andre Drummond and Dion Waiters, pulled out what was an entertaining and engaging contest throughout in topping the Chris Webber-chosen squad.
Though Drummond, a Detroit Pistons center in his second year, set a Rising Stars record with 25 rebounds in the contest, along with his 30 points, it was his MVP presentation from BBVA President and COO Angel Cono that had everyone talking and, unfortunately for the poor guy, laughing.
I’d make a joke, if it weren’t for the fact that Andre Drummond has some of the best big man hands in the league.
Drummond even made 6-8 free throws in the win, in sharp contrast to the 41 percent from the stripe he’s shot from the charity stripe so far in 2013-14. Starting alongside center Jonas Valanciunas on the Nate MacMillan-coached squad, Drummond used his ability to run the floor and high motor to gobble up whatever was clanging off the rim (Andre managed 14 offensive rebounds) on Team Hill’s end of the floor.
Chris Webber implored his group to encourage a “green light” approach prior to the game, telling the youngsters that he didn’t mind if a few passes ended up in the stands as long as it meant they were playing hard, and for most of the game his rookies and second-year players responded. The Rex Kalamian-coached outfit was in the game until the final two minutes, with Kalamian good-naturedly encouraging Webber’s selections throughout. Floor general and likely 2014 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams paced the team for most of the term, finishing with 17 points, nine assists, and six rebounds.
It was a third quarter duel between Team Webber’s Tim Hardaway Jr. and Team Hill’s Dion Waiters, however, that gave the contest one of its most memorable back and forth moments in the Rising Stars’ 20-year history. Neither player started for either Kalamian or MacMillan, and Waiters wasn’t even added to Hill’s squad until the “blind draft” portion of last week’s televised selection process, but both put on a ridiculous show rarely seen while wearing pro uniforms, on national TV.
Waiters was a little annoying at times, barking at both refs and teammates alike, but he got the better of Hardaway on several of their one-on-one forays. Hardaway had the best scoring line – finishing with 36 points, but Waiters managed 31 points on just 14 shots, with seven assists and four steals to go along with it.
An underreported aspect of the contest featured a matching between the Plumlee brothers – Mason and Miles – on opposite teams. Both made a point to go at each other when one was guarding the other, but while Miles Plumlee is having a better individual year as a starter with the Phoenix Suns in 2013-14, Mason managed the best line tonight – finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds. Both managed one spectacular block along the way, with Miles rejecting the high-flying All-Star Anthony Davis as he flew in for a baseline stuff, and Mason rejecting MVP Andre Drummond at the rim late in the game.
In all, in a contest that sometimes devolves into ultra-talented young players throwing not-so-accurate lob passes, the contest was one of the more competitive and remarked-upon in years. The 2014 rookie class may be rightfully mocked for its lack of star power, but both rookies and veterans alike held their own in a rare competitive exhibition game on All-Star weekend.
The famous general managers, willing and eager coaches, and the mindful, spirited talent on the court should be credited for that. Now all we need is for someone to take the same creative touch, vigor and professionalism in repairing Andre Drummond’s broken MVP trophy.
- - - - - - -