The NBA Rising Stars Challenge showcased a lot of things, very few of which looked like defense.
But no one cared.
The near-capacity crowd at Barclays Center didn’t buy tickets to see defense. They came for alley-oop dunks, crossover dribbles and high-flying action, and they got plenty of it, courtesy of two Minnesota Timberwolves -- rookie point guard Zach LaVine and No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins won the Most Valuable Player award, finishing with 22 points on 8-for-11 shooting, leading Team World to a 121-112 win. Team USA's LaVine could just as easily have won the award, matching Wiggins with 22 of his own.
“I feel good," Wiggins said of winning MVP. "I feel like we competed. We entertained the people watching. And the most important thing, we had fun doing it."
The two teams consisted of 10 first- and second-year players from the United States and around the globe, but none were more exciting Friday night than LaVine and Wiggins.
LaVine, who will be participating in Saturday’s Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, showed why he’s the favorite to win it this year. In the first half, he had a brilliant ankle-breaking crossover capped by a tomahawk dunk that looked as if his chin could have rested on the rim. The high-flying act awoke a sleepy Brooklyn crowd waiting for something to cheer.
Wiggins, who’s averaging 15.2 points per game this season, also brought his A-game to the Brooklyn dunk party. The three-time Western Conference Rookie of the Month caught a Rucker Park-like baseline alley-oop from Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schroder with two minutes left in the first half, drawing roars from the crowd.
"In practice you know, we go at each other just the same way we did out there," LaVine said of he and Wiggins.
The second half featured more of the same from the two. The 6-5 guard from UCLA started the half by throwing down back-to-back alley-oop dunks. As if on cue, Wiggins hit a 360-dunk and the race for game MVP began.
Both had highlight-reel dunks, but Wiggins said LaVine's plan for Saturday's Sprite Slam Dunk Contest is going to be one for the ages.
"I can't say nothing," Wiggins said of LaVine's idea for Saturday night. "Just know — I almost fainted. I never seen a dunk like that. I've never witnessed it live before in my life."