Lillard-centric All-Star weekend

Damian Lillard participated in a record five events at the NBA 2014 All-Star Game. Alongside teammate LaMarcus Aldridge, the two Portland Trail Blazers received one of the highest honors a player can have during the regular season, playing time in Sunday night’s big game.

But Lillard’s All-Star experience began days earlier, the second straight year he would play in the Rising Stars Challenge. The two teams were drafted by former players and current TNT analysts Chris Webber and Grant Hill. Lillard was the first pick for Team Hill.

While starting and playing over 30 minutes, Dame mostly deferred in this game and did not play much of the second half. He posted respectable numbers of 13 points, plus five rebounds and assists in Team Hill’s defeat of Team Webber, 142–136.

The next night was jam-packed with Lillard: He would compete in three of the day’s four events. This year the NBA made some refreshing changes to the Saturday night festivities. Now the participants were grouped East or West, and were playing for charities selected by each respective conference.

Some minor shifts were also implemented on the events themselves. In the Skills Challenge—a display of dribbling, passing and shooting—Lillard was the defending champion. New this time around, the challenge is now a two-player relay, where Lillard was partnered with the Utah Jazz’s Trey Burke. The pair clocked the best overall time in the first round before winning it all in the second.

Next up was the Three-Point Contest, with the novel idea of an entire rack made up of two-point “money-balls.” In the past only the last ball of each rack was a money-ball. The players got to pick where the special rack went, and Lillard chose the second corner spot for his. Lillard scored 18 points in the first round, one shy of the eventual champ, San Antonio Spur Marco Belinelli.

In his last event of the evening Lillard had the Slam Dunk Contest, with a whole new format featuring a 90-second freestyle round where three players worked together to showcase teamwork and impressive dunks.

Following the freestyle round there were one-on-one battles, all presided over by three judges: NBA Hall of Famers Dominique Wilkins, Magic Johnson, and Julius Erving.

Lillard had a pair of pretty under-the-leg jams, and Wilkins made a comment on how impressed he was, but the dunk contest was dominated by the East. Paul George, Terrance Ross, and especially John Wall dunked with authority and style.

Wall won the whole thing with a dunk where he leaped over the Washington Wizard’s mascot, who was holding the ball, then grabbed the ball and pumped it down before reverse jamming. It brought the crowd to their feet more than anything else that night. Like every few years, the commentators took the moment to exclaim “The dunk contest is back!” We will see about that.

Lillard was the first NBA player to compete in three events in one day. Back in 1993, Kenny “The Jet” Smith was the first player to participate in both the dunk and three-point contest.

The weekend culminated on Sunday night with the 63rd installment of the NBA All-Star game. In a game which, as usual, was lackluster defensively until the final few minutes, the East prevailed over the West 163–155. This year’s game made past ones look like pre-shot clock era defensive battles. Offensively, it was record setting even for the All-Star game.

This year had the most overall points scored (318), most points scored by one team (163, East), and most
three-pointers made by a player (8, Carmelo Anthony). Both Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin scored a whopping 38 points, four shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time record.

The MVP honors went to the Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, who had 31 points and 14 assists while leading the East to victory.

For Portland’s All-Star duo it was a quiet night. Lillard clocked the least minutes of any player at just under nine, though he scored nine points and grabbed a rebound in his short stint. Aldridge played just over 13 minutes, scoring four points and netting five boards.

One question that the city of Portland has been asking since it first got a professional team in 1970 is: When will we host the NBA All-Star game? This year it was in New Orleans, who last hosted in 2008. The line the NBA has given the public for years is a lack of hotel space.

While the Rose Quarter area of town does not have the finest such establishments, downtown Portland is a ten minute trip across the river, filled with high-end hotels and everything else an All-Star weekend would require. Heads up NBA, Portland is back to being a basketball power and we deserve some recognition.