February 20, 2011
The 2011 slam-dunk contest wasn't exactly a return to form -- the 1988 and 2000 competitions won't be shaking in their respective slammin' boots after watching tape from Saturday night's affair -- but the Blake Griffin(notes)-led show was a fun time out.
Griffin did pace the field, as was expected heading in. But he did have a fair amount of competition. Toronto's DeMar DeRozan(notes), Washington's JaVale McGee(notes) and Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka(notes) all brought the relative goods. The Los Angeles Clippers forward was still ahead of the group, if barely, becoming the first rookie to win the contest since New York's Nate Robinson(notes) took the crown in 2006.
Click the jump, no dunk intended, for the breakdown:
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
Expectations weren't exactly low for DeRozan as he entered the 2011 dunk competition, because we've watched him bound around the league for a year and a half since leaving USC. But after a weak showing last year during a glorified (and hopefully, one-off) dunk-in during 2010's All-Star weekend, one couldn't help but feel dubious as to whether or not the Toronto wing would bring the goods -- especially in a field featuring three forward/centers.
DeRozan attempted a modified version of the Andre Iguodala(notes) bounce-and-reverse from the 2006 contest, but Johnson was out of his element trying to bounce the ball off the basket support. The last part is important. Iggy and others bounce the ball off the side of the backboard. DeMar? He took it off the support itself, several feet away from the board. And, most importantly, several feet away from the rim.
DeMar followed this with a deserved 50 for another reverse in the second round. An alley-oop followed by a windmill, from a guard? Brilliant. Not good enough to move on, apparently. Blame the pass in the first round.
Grade? Give the man an A, only mitigated by a teammate's bad toss.
Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder
Serge Ibaka is around 6-8, so his dunk from the free throw line should have easily registered a 50. It certainly wasn't the most creative turn, even if the Congo-born second-year big man came through with a tribute to his home continent before throwing down, but it was worth a 50. Julius Erving was the same height as Ibaka, Brent Barry(notes) was an inch or two shorter, and they both had a toe or more on the line as they took off from 15 feet away. Ibaka did no such thing, taking off beyond the freebie stripe, and all he could take in were nines from the judges.
His second dunk was pretty contrived. A well-coiffed child actor was brought in from the audience to complain -- into a microphone -- about losing his toy, which was stuck in the net below the dunking rim. The kid was cute, the idea OK, but it grew a little stale rather quickly.
Ibaka proceeded to attempt to oop himself a pass, and dunk while grabbing the stuffed animal with his teeth. As if it couldn't get any weirder, Serge couldn't nail the first dunk, only coming down with the toy in his mouth. No dunk, just a toy in his mouth. The kid had to wait, as if it was ever his teddy to begin with, as NBA workers brought out a ladder (showmanship!) and re-affixed the "lost" toy to the rim. If you're still reading at this point, stop. It was dull and strange, and, yes, Serge nailed the dunk on the second attempt and brought down the lost toy. No amount of over-arching from the judges following their miss on the foul-line dunk could make this one any better.
Grade? Give the man a B, only marred by some bad advice.
JaVale McGee, Washington Wizards
Dwight Howard(notes), the 2009 dunk contest winner, was underneath the TNT microphones as a guest analyst. And while he didn't really offer any sort of insight worthy of repeating, the uncomfortable back and forth between Howard and McGee's "coach" Chris Webber did, for a short time, allow us to believe that McGee was going to attempt a dunk on a 13-foot rim. After all, Webber was coming through with a muddled bit of trash talk sent Howard's way, and after Dwight dunked on a 12-foot rim a few years back, it seemed only natural.
Instead, McGee brought out a second rim not to churn his way to 13-foot heights, but to attempt (and succeed) in dunking on two baskets at once. Or, dunking lefty, while throwing down off a lob on the right-hand rim. It, if your imagination is all that is allowed here, was amazing.
In the second round, McGee dunked three balls at once. Or, as close to "at once" as gravity will allow. It was, again, amazing. After that? He pulled some reach around reverse that would have been fantastic in its own right, but JaVale managed to straighten-out his right hand and dunk on the weak side as if he had started from that end. In all, it was a stunning display of athleticism.
In the third round, after his closest competitor brought out a middling four-cylinder car and jumped over the hood, McGee sort of lost his nerve while attempting his final stuff. After two half-hearted attempts at a lob off the glass and reverse, an embarrassed McGee settled on a bounce off the board and cock-backed throw-down with one hand. Nice, but this was shootaround work. An unfortunate end to a wildly impressive night out.
Grade? Give the man an A, only hurt by the amount of dunk attempts he needed.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Make no mistake, Griffin was the best dunker of the night. At least, he was the most entertaining, and that's without taking into consideration the -- oh, let's be honest -- lame presentation that was his final dunk.
Worst things first. Griffin had a Kia something wheeled out for his final turn, and with a local choir singing "I Believe I Can Fly" beyond the half-court stripe, Blake jumped over the car's hood for a nice two-handed stuff. Now, none of us want Griffin to push things. We kind of like the idea of this guy dominating the league for the next 15 years. But this dunk, this show, was pretty dull.
The rest? The rookie brought it.
A 450-degree throwdown in the first round started things off. A second-round reverse off of a terrible Baron Davis(notes) pass followed. Davis kept us from seeing a dunk contest classic because Blake shifted after a few attempts and took an easier dunk.
In the third round, Griffin dunked from outside the charge circle, and easily fit his elbow into the rim. And while the dunk might not be something you'll tell your grandchildren about, this was a fantastic display of athleticism. He put a basketball in a 10-foot rim with his hand, that was connected to his arm, that was connected to his elbow, that also went into the rim. Any bit of Official Vehicle of the NBA-sponsored nonsense -- and this is coming from a guy who is going to a car show later today -- can't take away from that stunning burst. Blake Griffin deserved to win this dunk contest.
Grade? Give the man an A, tempered only by a dull stuff in the final round.
In all? The dunk contest was nothing to write home about.
As an entertainment package? It was great! I dare anyone who isn't on the wrong side of a batch of opiates to tell you that they sat through the entire thing and didn't have fun. Was it the best dunking exhibition we've seen? Clearly not. Were parts contrived? Of course.
Was it a great show? No doubt.
See you next year, Blake. And hopefully, JaVale.