Anfernee Simons kissed good-bye the competition in the NBA Slam Dunk competition Sunday night, nearly locking lips with the rim on a grand finale that was deemed good enough to edge Obi Toppin for the 2021 crown as the league’s top dunker during the annual All-Star festivities in Atlanta.
The 21-year-old from the Portland Trail Blazers shared the All-Star Game undercard spotlight with Stephen Curry, who needed to make his last shot to edge Mike Conley in the 3-Point Contest, and Domantas Sabonis, who won a battle of big men over Nikola Vucevic for the Skills Challenge crown.
After winning Round 1 of the three-man competition with 95 points, one more than New York Knicks rookie Toppin, the two were allowed just one more dunk to determine the 2021 champion.
Toppin, who had dunked over his father, Obadiah, and teammate Julius Randle to eliminate Cassius Stanley in the first round, completed his finals dunk first, setting the stage for Simons to do better.
He did, jumping high enough so that his puckered lips nearly came in contact with the rim as he slammed the ball through the hoop.
In a new scoring system, Simons was deemed to have performed the best dunk in the finals by three judges, while the other two opted for Toppin.
Simons had the highest scoring dunk among two attempts apiece in the first round, scoring a 49 on his second try after being awarded a 46 on his first.
Toppin scored 48 and 46 for a 94 total, one fewer than Simons but easily enough to beat out the Indiana Pacers’ Stanley (44, 37) for the second spot in the finals.
As a concession to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 3-point and skills competition were held immediately before the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday instead of one day prior. The slam dunk contest was scheduled for halftime of the All-Star Game.
The NBA’s leader in total 3-pointers this season with 169, Curry watched as fellow finalists Jayson Tatum put up 17 points, while Conley, the NBA’s reigning H-O-R-S-E competition champ, had 27. It set the stage for the 2015 3-point champion, who had dominated the earlier first round.
Curry was four points behind when he arrived at his last rack of five balls, then made three of four to get within one point before hoisting the red-white-and-blue two-point ball through the hoop just before time ran out to finish with 28.
The Sacramento Kings’ Buddy Hield used the same final-shot heroics to win last year’s championship.
Curry joined Jason Kapono, Peja Stojakovic, Jeff Hornacek and Mark Price as two-time champs in the distance-shooting event. Craig Hodges and Larry Bird won three each.
Curry is one of two Golden State Warriors ever to win the title, with teammate Klay Thompson winning in 2016. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who played most of his career for the Chicago Bulls, was the 1997 winner.
Shooting last, Curry dominated the first round, running up 31 points to lead Conley (28) and Tatum (25) into the three-man finals.
Zach LaVine (22), Donovan Mitchell (22) and Jaylen Brown (17) were eliminated in the first round.
A runner-up to Bam Adebayo last year, Sabonis defeated Julius Randle, Luka Doncic and Vucevic en route to the Skills Challenge crown.
The victory was the fourth in the last six years for a big man, with the 6-foot-11 Indiana Pacers center joining Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis and Adebayo among recent winners.
Sabonis, who missed his last eight 3-point shots for the Pacers leading into the All-Star break, needed just one shot to cap first- and second-round wins over Randle and Doncic.
After Vucevic had eliminated Robert Covington and Chris Paul, he got a shot at the title but missed his first 3-point attempt in the finals against Sabonis.
The Pacers big man got off four quick attempts, with his fourth finally going through the hoop as Vucevic was launching his third try.
Paul and Doncic, the co-favorites in the event, received first-round byes. But neither was able to take advantage, each falling in the semifinals in their first run through the dribbling, passing and shooting course.
–Field Level Media