They didn’t practice at all, but they believed they could — and perhaps even should — win.
And then a few hours later, the Utah Jazz trio of Jordan Clarkson, Walker Kessler, and Collin Sexton went ahead and did it, emerging as champions in the Skills Challenge on All-Star Saturday Night at Vivint Arena.
They bested a team consisting of the three Antetokounmpo brothers (with Bucks teammate Jrue Holiday filling in for the injured Giannis) and a team of NBA rookies consisting of Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith Jr., and Jaden Ivey.
The competition happened in three parts.
First up was an obstacle course-type relay race, consisting of chest-passing a ball into a hoop, dribbling around some moving obstacles, getting three chances to hit a floater, three chances to hit a corner 3 over a spinning windmill, then sprinting downcourt to make either a dunk or layup on the opposite hoop. The team that had all three players finished in the lowest combined time won the event.
The Jazz got off to a bad start when Clarkson went the wrong way around one of the obstacles and had to backtrack — a mishap referenced in their eventual celebration.
As Kessler and Sexton came to the victory podium holding their championship trophies, Clarkson was nowhere to be found. When a reporter asked if the guard took a wrong turn, Kessler quipped, “Just like in the first part!”
The guard, asked to explain what went wrong, was good-natured about it.
“I don’t usually stick to the script, so …” he joked. “It is what it is. I told ‘em, ‘Work smarter, not harder: Let’s go the easy route; we know we can pass, we know we can shoot the ball.’ So all that movement, it’s All-Star Weekend — my body shut down.”
He was correct, though, in that the Jazz dominated the passing and shooting competitions that followed.
Event No. 2 saw three passing targets of differing sizes and set at different distances down the court — thus being worth different point totals. No player could pass from the same spot twice in a row.
The Antetkounmpos went first and scored 84 points. The rookies (who won the obstacle challenge) went next and managed just 78. The Jazz finished it up and racked up 88 points.
Asked how difficult those passes were, Clarkson was self-deprecating again.
“Um, for guys like me that don’t really pass much …” he said, laughing.
The final event was a shooting competition featuring five marked, numbered spots around the court — each being worth a corresponding number of points. Each player had to shoot at least once, and shots could not be taken from the same spot consecutively. There was also only one
The Antetokounmpos hit a few shots, but struggled to get enough shots up, as they were in disarray as to whom should rebound, pass, or shoot, totaling just eight points. The rookies followed and were even more discombobulated, managing just three points.
The Jazz went last again, and had an organized sequence down of passing, shooting, and rebounding — enabling them to total 13 points and earn the overall championship. Asked why they had their stuff together so much better than the other teams, Kessler quickly replied: “Because I came up with the strategy!”
His point guard agreed.
“Walk definitely came up with the strategy. And it worked. It definitely worked, and we give him credit,” said Sexton. “This might be the last credit we ever give you!”
Kessler notably made the winning shot on a corner 3 — one of a couple triples he buried.
“Big stretch-5! Big Walk, baby!” intoned Clarkson.
Kessler was then asked if he planned to use that as ammunition to persuade Jazz coach Will Hardy to let him start firing away from deep.
“Um, I’m gonna keep doing what I’m doing and stay on the court.”