George's East Team Wins Dunk Contest
Note: Pacers.com's Scott Agness and Wheat Hotchkiss both contributed to this story.
Paul George returned to the Slam Dunk Contest seeking to get back what he believed was his in 2012. That year, George felt he should have won the competition instead of actual champion Jeremy Evans.
On Saturday night in New Orleans, George got some degree of redemption, as his Eastern Conference squad swept the West for the title in a new format that made the contest a conference challenge rather than an individual competition.
“I feel like I redeemed (myself from) 2012, and I did it alongside some good friends,” George said.
The dunk contest featured an improved lineup, including three All-Stars — George, John Wall and Damian Lillard — for just the second time in contest history (1988).
Joining George on the East team was Wall and Toronto’s Terrence Ross. The West unit included Lillard, Golden State’s Harrison Barnes and Sacramento’s Ben McLemore.
The first round in the new format was a Freestyle Round, where each team completed as many dunks as they could in 90 seconds. Practice and coordination on Friday paid off for the East, who capped off the Freestyle Round with a pass off the backboard to George for a right-handed jam.
Photo Gallery: PG in Dunk Contest »
NBA legends Dominique Wilkins, Magic Johnson, and Julius Erving judged the event, and they all favored the East after the first round.
The Eastern Conference trio then dominated the Battle Round. Terrence Ross edged Lillard, 2-1, in the night’s first battle.
George then pulled off an impressive 360-degree between-the-legs one-handed slam, though it took him three tries. He had no trouble disposing of Barnes, who missed twice and then threw down a pretty generic windmill.
“I tried to pull something else special out, and something that hasn’t been done,” George said of the dunk.
Added Barnes: “It’s hard to top a 360 between-the-legs. So regardless of what I’d done, it would have been hard to top that.”
George admitted he felt pressure to pull off the dunk on his final attempt, but quipped, “You know me, I like pressure.”
Washington Wizards guard John Wall ended the night with a reverse slam after grabbing the ball from — and jumping over — the Wizards team mascot. That successful dunk earned him the title “Dunker of the Night,” as voted on by the fans.
“Man, it was special,” George said about Wall’s dunk. “He did it in a practice run, and I knew that was going to be the dunk of the night when he did it.”
After Saturday’s contest, George stopped by the Mixed Zone to meet with the media, then was whisked away to pose for photos with the Slam Dunk Contest trophy. On route, George had a memorable encounter with a couple major celebrities.
First, George ran into music mogul Diddy, who stopped the Pacers’ 23 year-old star for a two-minute conversation. Diddy expressed his respect for George’s dunk and wished him luck the rest of the season.
While George and Diddy were speaking, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Basketball Hall of Famer and legendary dunker, got George’s attention, patted him on the shoulder, and offered some words of encouragement, saying: “Keep pushing, man.”
As for the new format, George said it was fun to be part of a team, but he isn’t sure if it has staying power. George said the biggest drawback with the new system was that the East sweep only allowed for himself, Ross, and Wall to show off one dunk.
“We had other stuff lined up that we were going to do, if we needed to get to that point,” George said. “…We’re going to save it in case somebody wants to challenge us.”