Much like in the main event of the weekend in which the NBA’s rookie and sophomore players’ superstar counterparts participate, the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge usually ends up lopsided with one team dominating over the other due to a lack of defense—because at the end of the day, who really wants to see defense in a game that’s supposed to provide entertainment at the highest level? However, this particular rising stars challenge differed from those in the past.
Photos: Alan Glanzman/Creative Commons; Erik Daniel Drost/Creative Commons
Grant Hill and Chris Webber were the captains of their respective teams, each with a roster of promising young stars who could yet make a name for themselves in years to come. The beginning of the game included the typical sequences fans are used to seeing: a barrage of 3s, alley-oop passes from half court and, of course, attempted And-1-style ankle breakers—just not of the Bruce Bowen variety. Andre Drummond was a beast on the glass and in the paint (we’ll get to that shortly), while Anthony Davis proved why he’ll be the next resident shot blocker in the NBA. In fact, anytime a defender has the ability to block a sky hook from a seven-footer, you have to take notice ( Jonas Valanciunas’ valiant shot attempt, we hardly knew ye).
However, amidst all of the shot-blocking and acrobatic lay-ups, Cleveland Cavs sophomore Dion Waiters and New York Knicks rookie Tim Hardaway, Jr. entered into what could arguably be one of the greatest one-on-one duels in recent memory. Taking into account that it took place within crunch time range, you have yourself a potential classic in the making. Waiters dropped the gauntlet first in this epic duel, but to quote the global ambassador of the Toronto Raptors, Drake, “It ain’t about who did it first, it’s about who did it right.” You can easily make the case for either one of them performing to the golden standard.
The first shots were fired at the 8:35 mark in the second half when Hardaway, Jr. hit a 3 in Waiters’ face. A minute later, Hardaway, Jr. crossed Waiters over and drove to the hoop. Immediately after, Waiters smugly walked up to the three-line and nailed it. Without hesitation, Hardaway sank another one from beyond 30 feet for the trifecta—that’s when things got hotter than Nola’s Cajun cooking.
Waiters followed up with an ankle-breaker and a 3 of his own, much to the crowd’s delight. Hardaway, Jr. shook off Waiters’ riposte, and nailed another triple from just inside his previous shot. With 3:25 to go after a failed steal attempt from Waiters, Hardaway, Jr. took advantage of the open shot and made it from tri-range yet again. The showdown virtually ended when Hardaway turned the ball over late in the game, leading to a 3 from Waiters once again. The game ended in a 142-136 final for Team Hill.
In terms of the highly entertaining duel that unfolded out on the court, Team Hill’s Hardaway, Jr. won the battle with 36 points and seven for 16 shooting behind the arc, but it was Waiters who won the war with 31 points, four for six shooting from downtown and seven assists, proving to be the more productive of the two.
Andre Drummond claimed the Most Valuable Player award for the night with 30 points, and he also set a record for the most rebounds by a single player with 25 boards—of course, Drummond could have made it 26 rebounds had he been able to catch his hard-earned trophy as it was dropped by the presenter. Nonetheless, this proved to be one of the more entertaining rising stars challenges, even prompting Kevin Durant to break out into a shimmy worthy of Mardi Gras beads. Let’s just say the bar has been set for the rest of the weekend. These rising stars were definitely aligned.