NBA players don’t become NBA players without a certain level of competitiveness.
While that isn’t always on display at All-Star events, and certainly not always at the Rising Stars game, Donovan Mitchell wanted it to be on Friday night, in his final go at the contest.
“Last year, we lost by 50. I took that personally, I think a lot of us did,” Mitchell said. “We all came together and I called pretty much everybody, and I said, ‘Let’s try to win this.’ ”
Team USA did that, taking revenge on Team World by a score of 161-144.
Mitchell played a rowdy role in terms of leading his team to the win, imploring his team with shouts of “We gotta play some defense!” as both teams racked up bucket after bucket. He also assisted nine USA buckets, plus picked up seven rebounds and five steals.
He was also part of a significant battle for the game’s MVP award. Eventually, former University of Utah and current Los Angeles Laker forward Kyle Kuzma took home the game’s MVP, scoring 35 points in the game on 15-27 shooting.
“I want to make the All-Star Game next year. That’s the next level,” Kuzma said. “I have confidence that I can one day be an All-Star in this league. That’s definitely a goal for me, ever since I was a kid.”
Boston’s Jayson Tatum scored 30 for Team USA, while Atlanta’s Trae Young played a significant and entertaining role, scoring 25 points, getting 10 assists, and even adding two nutmeg dribbles to the contest. Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons led the World team with 28 points, while Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen scored 21.
“Ben was going at it, I was going at it, Kuz was going at it,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell tried his hand at getting entertainment in to the game, too. He began the game with a monster lob to Kuzma, then found himself on the end of a lob dunk just seconds later. It turned out that it was to be his only dunk for the rest of the contest; the rest of his makes came from layups and threes. He did have one ugly miss: an attempted self-alley-oop off the backboard that Mitchell missed. That is, he actually missed hitting the ball off the backboard, not the dunk attempt itself.
But Atlanta’s John Collins — who was born in Layton, Utah, to military parents traveling around the world — provided plenty of dunking as part of a warmup for Saturday’s Dunk Contest. One was a 360-degree alley-oop provided by Young; he also completed a double-pump reverse jam in traffic.
“Knowing what he can do, I give him like a 7 [out of 10]. I think he has a lot more in store [for tomorrow],” Mitchell said.
The game was part of a whirlwind of a day for the Rising Stars, beginning with a morning press session with hundreds of credentialed media from around the world attending the weekend’s events. One of the glories of the day is unique questions from international media, who surround each player’s podium ready with questions ranging from the germane to the inane.
Atlanta’s Young was asked, for example, about his previously reported fear of birds. Once Young confirmed his ornithophobia, he was then asked if NBA legend Larry Bird also struck fear into his heart.
“If he walked into a room, I’m not going to be scared of Larry Bird, for sure,” Young confirmed.
Yeah, All-Star Weekend gets a little nutty.