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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Champions Dethroned on All-Star Saturday Night

All-Star Saturday Night saw two reigning champions fail to defend their titles--and two former champions regain their crowns. The Detroit Pistons won the Shooting Stars competition for the second time in three years, Daequan Cook ended Jason Kapono's two year run as the Three Point Shootout king and Nate Robinson won his second Slam Dunk championship, narrowly denying Dwight Howard's repeat bid. Meanwhile, rookie Derrick Rose made a big All-Star Weekend splash by winning the Skills Challenge, punctuating his victory with a dramatic, double pump reverse dunk.

The Pistons faced a strong challenge from the host Phoenix Suns, who posted the best time in the first round and made their first five shots in the finals before struggling to connect from half court. Bill Laimbeer later explained that the key to Detroit's victory was a change in strategy: he had previously been the team's three point shooter but he realized that his vision is not what it used to be, so he ceded that role to Katie Smith, who he called "the greatest three point shooter in the history of women's basketball."

Derrick Rose glided so effortlessly through the Skills Challenge obstacle course that some observers wondered if he was really even trying his hardest--but Rose said afterwards that he had deliberately paced himself to ensure that he did not make any mistakes. Rose is very similar to LeBron James in that both players are pass-first oriented and know how to lead without being overbearing. They also both have great poise and a pleasant demeanor. Rose still has to hone his skill set to truly become an elite point guard but he has certainly started his career in a strong fashion.

Truthfully, this year's Three Point Shootout field will not go down in history as one of the strongest, as demonstrated by the fact that Rashard Lewis missed 10 straight shots at one point--and still finished in second place. Jason Kapono's stroke seemed to be off right from the jump and he never found a real groove during the event. That opened the door for his Heat teammate Cook, who survived a scare in the event's Finals by making his final four shots on the last rack to narrowly avoid elimination. In contrast, Kapono fell apart in the Finals, missing his final four shots. Cook and Rashard Lewis tied with 15 points each, so they battled in a playoff to determine the winner; Cook prevailed easily, clinching the victory while shooting from the second of five racks.

In the much anticipated Slam Dunk contest, Howard dunked on a 12 foot rim, did a wonderfully difficult slam in which he threw an alley oop to himself off of the side of the backboard--and still lost. Howard received perfect 50s on his first two dunks, while Robinson scored 46 and then 41, but in the end Robinson prevailed, capping off his performance by jumping over Howard and throwing it down. As Robinson said, Howard showed that he is a good sport and classy person by not balking at Robinson's suggestion about that dunk. Howard and Robinson are both great showmen who really seem to have a lot of fun during this event, so hopefully Robinson's comment about retiring from the Slam Dunk contest will turn out to be false.

Although no one would suggest that he outperformed Robinson or Howard, Rudy Fernandez did a couple great dunks that the fans in the crowd loved but only received a lukewarm response from the judges, prompting boos throughout the arena. However, fans voted for the Finals winner via text message, so it can truly be said that the people's choice prevailed in the battle between "Superman" and "Krypto-Nate."

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:36 AM



At Sunday, February 15, 2009 8:43:00 AM, Blogger Joel said...

Howard and Robinson got the job done in the end (I thought Howard's first dunk in the final round was the best of the night) but the judges were too generous to Howard early on and too harsh on Fernandez. I know Fernandez took a while to complete his second dunk (it was pretty difficult) but so did Robinson a couple years ago. It seemed to me like they were determined from the start to set up a Nate vs Dwight 'David & Goliath' (or is it Superman vs Lex Luthor?) final round. Fernandez should have had at least 45s on both his dunks.

I also didn't like the fact that Robinson levered himself up twice - first on Chandler's back, then Howard's - but I guess he gets a pass because of his size.

The Shootout was a bit of a disappointment. Cook won it almost by default, especially with Lewis falling apart in the playoff.

At Sunday, February 15, 2009 10:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I did not see the telecast since I was in the arena so I don't know how it looked/sounded on TV, but the crowd was very upset with the judges after both of Fernandez' dunks.

Cook put up a worthy score in the very last round but Lewis put no pressure on him because he went first and completely bombed out. I know that the contestants all have good three point shooting percentages this year but in terms of pure shooters I don't think that this was a great field overall, but you never know how many other players may have been asked to participate but declined for whatever reason.

At Sunday, February 15, 2009 11:24:00 AM, Blogger Don said...

Unrelated: Hey Dave, have you seen this piece by Michael Lewis in today's NYT magazine? http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/15/magazine/15Battier-t.html

It's on Shane Battier and the Rockets, and it spends some time on his defense of Kobe Bryant. For whatever it's worth, I think it's a terrific piece of journalism, and a very good explanation, for the layman, of how smart teams are using finely parsed stats to improve their chances. (These are not "advanced individual stats" like PER, but rather situational stats.)

Anyway, I found the section on how the Rockets try to defend Kobe to be really interesting, and I'd be interested in your take on that, and on the whole piece, if you're so inclined to provide it.


At Sunday, February 15, 2009 3:50:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

The All-Star weekend contests appear to have been ahead of their time. With the advent of the DVR, they have found their perfect viewing milieu, to be fast forwarded until something interesting happens, and then fast forwarded again.

At Monday, February 16, 2009 4:09:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Someone else brought that article to my attention in a different thread. I only have had time to skim it but I plan to read it in full and then write something about it eventually.


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