The NBA's 2022 All-Star Weekend got started on Friday night, first with the Celebrity Game and then with the Rising Stars Challenge. This year's event was won by Team Barry, and No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham of the Detroit Pistons was named MVP.
There was a totally new format this time around. Unlike past years, which featured a regular game between Rookies and Sophomores, or Team USA vs. Team World, this year's event was a mini-tournament between four different teams. NBA legends Rick Barry, Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton and James Worthy each drafted and coached a team of seven players. Rookies, sophomores and even G League Ignite players were included.
What's more, instead of playing until the final buzzer, the teams played to a target score. In the first round, Team Isiah beat Team Worthy, 50-49, while Team Barry took down Team Payton, 50-48. Then, in the title game, Team Barry secured the trophy with a 25-20 win over Team Isiah.
Here are three key takeaways from the night:
1. Cunningham leads Team Barry to victory, named MVP
Cade Cunningham was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft less than a year ago, and the Detroit Pistons point guard already has his first title and MVP. OK, it's just the Rising Stars Challenge, but it's always fun to win, and Cunningham led Team Barry to victory on Friday night, earning MVP in the process.
He finished with five points, two rebounds and three assists in the championship game, which aren't particularly impressive numbers until you consider that they were only playing to 25. So not only did he directly contribute to a third of his team's points, but he also scored their final four points, including the game-winning free throw.
"[Our goal was] to win," Cunningham said. "I feel like we had the team to do it, and we had to come out and prove ourselves and get the 'ship. I'm glad we did that."
With Cunningham leading the way, Team Barry came out and played a much more organized form of basketball than we usually see in this event. They were running real plays and sitting down in actual stances on the defensive end. The strategy, which was clearly designed by the team's GM and head coach, Rick Barry, paid off.
"I tried to get some diversification, get some size, get some guys who can shoot the ball and just play good basketball," Barry said. "I'm proud of these guys, cause every one of them did a good job. It was so great to see them playing basketball. They really went out and played the way the game should be played."
2. New format a success
No competition at All-Star Weekend has gone through as many changes as the Rising Stars Challenge. In recent years it was Team USA vs. Team World, before that it was a captain's picks situation with TNT broadcasters serving as general managers and even earlier it was Rookies vs. Sophomores.
This time around they went way out of the box with a mini-tournament format that featured four different teams, all of which were coached by a different NBA legend: Isiah Thomas, James Worthy, Gary Payton and Ricky Barry. Each team had seven players, split between rookies, sophomores and in a new twist, G League Ignite prospects.
If that wasn't enough, the league also totally revamped the games. Instead of playing a normal game with four quarters, the teams played to a target score. In the first round, the teams played to 50 points, and in the championship game, they played to 25 points. The idea, clearly, was to make the event more meaningful and add some incentive for the players to try hard.
To that extent it worked. This wasn't a playoff game by any means, but there was far more defense and serious play than we usually get in the Rising Stars Challenge -- at least toward the end of the games. Overall it still wasn't that exciting -- ending the championship on a free throw was a bummer -- but it was definitely more enjoyable than usual.
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3. Barnes and Maxey "steal" the show
In between the first round and championship of the tournament, a new event debuted: the Clutch Challenge. Players formed teams of two and had to make shots from five different locations on the court, each representing a different clutch shot from NBA history.
Here were the five shots:
- Magic Johnson's baby sky hook from the 1987 Finals
- Charles Barkley's series-ender in the 1993 playoffs
- Reggie Miller's game-winner in the 1998 playoffs
- Ray Allen's 3-pointer in the 2013 Finals
- Damian Lillard's series-ender in the 2019 playoffs
They didn't have to recreate the plays, but simply make shots from those spots as quickly as possible. In theory, the Magic baby sky hook from just a few feet away should have been the easiest part of the whole competition, but that wasn't the case for Scottie Barnes and Tyrese Maxey.
The young stars kept missing, and missing, and missing. All told they went 0-for-6 from that spot and eventually ran out of time. It was by far the most memorable moment of the night and had everyone courtside cracking up.
"I'm in disbelief," Barnes said afterward while shaking his head.