San Antonio Spurs swingman Marco Belinelli was a slow starter as an NBA pro, he started slowly as an NBA three-point shooter, and he clanged away to start his run at the league’s Three-Point Shootout on Saturday night. As the racks progressed and Marco picked up a little sweat on his brow, though, his shots started falling to the point where he outpaced his Team West compatriots and entered into a playoff with Team East finalist Bradley Beal. Belinelli topped the Washington Wizards guard by nailing 24 points in that playoff round, the highest total of the night, earning a Three-Point Shootout title in his first appearance at the event.
Beal forced the playoff in what was the most thrilling part of the NBA’s All-Star Saturday events to that point by nailing the last six shots of his final round. Stuck with just 11 points in comparison to Belinelli’s score of 19 in the last frame, Beal shot an airball on the penultimate ball on his penultimate rack before hitting six daggers in a row to tie Marco’s score. Though Beal was allowed to rest during the subsequent playoff, Belinelli overcame his astonishment at Beal’s clutch performance and prevailed by notching the highest total of the night at the best possible time.
The event marked the first time the Three-Point Shootout included a rack of all “money balls,” multi-colored ABA-inspired balls that counted for two points. This meant that for the first time in the 30-year contest history, participants had a chance to score 34 total points instead of the regular 30 – and yet point totals were still surprisingly low, despite the significant talent on hand. Most players chose to place the enhanced rack at their hot spot – 2012 Three-Point winner Kevin Love sat his at the left wing, same as Beal, while others like Belinelli, Aaron Afflalo, and defending champion Kyrie Irving placed theirs in the corner, behind the shortened 22-foot line.
Irving bowed in the first round with just 17 points, while Orlando swingman Afflalo topped out at 15. Joe Johnson’s slow and loping style made it so he left three potential shots on his final rack, and finished with a contest-low 11 points. Love and perennial favorite Stephen Curry managed just 16, while Damian Lillard (just minutes after winning the Skills Competition with teammate Trey Burke) walked off the court with 18 points.
In the end, Marco walked off with the trophy:
"I remember when Larry Bird won the three-point contest and now I'm in the same place...it's a dream come true!" pic.twitter.com/F1LLmbyMN6
— NBA UK (@NBAUK) February 16, 2014
In all, Belinelli’s sometimes-there stroke (he airballed several shots in the contest, and even had a rebound bounce back to hit him in the final round) managed to top the gorgeous stroke of Beal. Sound work from the improving Spur contributor, one that is shooting a white hot 45 percent from behind the arc this season, in overcoming a aesthetically-pleasing and quite clutch performance from the second-year Washington Wizards comer.
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