MONTREAL: Minnesota Timberwolves forward Zach LaVine earned a second straight NBA All-Star Slam Dunk title in Toronto on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) in a scintillating showdown with Orlando’s Aaron Gordon.
LaVine, fresh from earning Most Valuable Player honors in Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge exhibition game, earned his fifth maximum score of 50 on the night with a through the legs dunk from just within the free-throw line to seal the win.
He became the fourth player to win back-to-back dunk titles, after Michael Jordan (1987-88), Jason Richardson (2002-03) and Nate Robinson (2009-10).
But Gordon didn’t make it easy, as the two traded spectacular soaring dunks in the final round.
“We should share the trophy, because (Gordon) did some stuff I’ve never seen before,” LaVine said.
Gordon launched the final round with an incredible display of timing, grabbing the ball from the Orlando Magic mascot who was spinning on a hoverboard. He was twisting through the air himself to throw down a one-handed dunk.
LaVine responded by throwing himself an alley-oop pass and soaring for a one-handed finish.
Gordon then again used the mascot, vaulting over the costumed creature, plucking the ball from its head and passing it from one hand to another beneath his body on his way to the rim.
LaVine answered with a classic windmill dunk that also received maximum points.
In the first dunk-off, Gordon had teammate Elfrid Payton bounce an alley-oop softly off the backboard. He caught it and completed a reverse dunk.
LaVine responded by throwing an alley-oop to himself from the baseline, catching the ball and passing it through his legs for a reverse.
On the second dunk-off, Gordon ran along the baseline and did a two-handed reverse that garnered 47 points, opening the door for LaVine to seal it.
The dunk contest was the highlight of the All-Star Saturday night festivities — curtain raiser to Sunday’s All-Star Game.
Klay Thompson won the three-point shooting contest, making his final eight shots to edge Golden State Warriors teammate and defending three-point champ Stephen Curry.
The Skills Challenge was won by Timberwolves rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns, who beat Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas in the final round.
Towns, a 7-footer (2.13m) was an unlikely winner over the 5-foot, 9-inch (1.75 m) Thomas in the competition testing agility.