Following the theme of the evening on NBA All-Star Saturday, the Taco Bell Skills Challenge was formatted as an East vs. West showdown, with two pairs in each conference battling to advance to a final match-up against the opposite conference.
The Eastern Conference went first, with the interesting pairing of a shooting guard in Toronto’s DeMar DeRozen and a forward in Milwaukee rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo in what is traditionally is a point guard-dominated contest. They finished in 45 seconds flat, which, with no context, seemed to be decent.
Although it wasn’t any surprise, of course, when the all-rookie duo of Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams and Orlando’s Victor Oladipo bested their time by putting up a time of 43.3 seconds, good enough to advance to the championship round.
The Western Conference was started off by Oklahoma City’s Reggie Jackson and Phoenix’s Goran Dragic. They posted the best time to that point, finishing in 42.3 seconds while TNT analyst Reggie Miller admonished Jackson for trying to be too “cool” in lolly-gagging through the opening leg.
Sure enough, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Utah’s Trey Burke flew through the course, finishing in just 40.6 seconds and moving onto the final round match-up with Carter-Williams and Oladipo.
In the championship round, however, both Carter-Williams and Oladipo were slowed by missing a pass through the target. Carter-Williams missed a pair of jumpers as well, putting his teammate well behind the 8-ball. They ultimately finished in 45.3 seconds, well behind their first round time.
Lillard struggled with the pass and the shot in the final round, but Burke came through, racing down the final stretch and laying the ball in with 45.2 seconds showing on the clock, defeating the Eastern Conference by .1 seconds, and completing the most exciting finish in Skills Challenge history, for whatever that’s worth.
The team aspect was interesting, but personally, the contest seemed to lose some overall excitement from the six contest, one v. one format of old. The relay was okay, but didn’t quite have the same feel. It sure is hard to argue about a .1 second finish, of course.