NEW ORLEANS - Shortly after hoisting his second Slam Dunk trophy, this one he'll have to share, Terrence Ross was stunned to hear that the contest's format change was not especially well received.
"It was one of the best shows ever," said the Raptors guard, disagreeing with the critics. "It's really what people wanted to see. You couldn't see those dunks without three players on the court so it worked out for the best I think."
The Slam Dunk Contest - the pride and joy of All-Star Saturday Night - adopted a team concept this year, pitting the three participants from the East against the West's trio in a two-round showcase. It was, for all intents and purposes, a bust.
In the final round, a head-to-head session, the team from the East - consisting of Ross, John Wall and Paul George - defeated the West in a clean sweep. It was an unorthodox victory for Ross, who only threw down one dunk, outside of the initial freestyle round.
"Hey, a win's a win," the sophomore said, elated after the competition came to an end, not unlike most in attendance and watching from home. "I'm gonna take it either way. I've never lost a dunk contest at this point so I'm happy."
The real champion, assuming anyone can really be considered a winner after that performance, was John Wall, who was awarded the fan vote for Dunker of the Night. Wall capped off an anticlimactic evening with the only real jaw-dropping dunk, leaping over Wizards mascot G-Man, taking the ball out of his hands and completing a two-hand reverse jam to seal the East's victory.
Off the top, each team had 90 seconds to work together and complete as many dunks as they could. The team dynamic, allowed the dunkers to collaborate and be creative in their attempts. Ross and the East took advantage, while the West - with Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes and Ben McLemore - ate up nearly a third of their allotted time before converting a notable slam. To call it organized chaos would be putting it mildly. Mostly, it was a disjointed mess with an occasional highlight, a couple from Ross, who put down a reverse to open the contest.
The battle round had promise but lacked any semblance of rhythm or flow, as actual dunks were few and far between. Just as it started to come around, it ended abruptly.
Lillard led off the proceedings - competing in his third event of the night - facing Ross, who brought along a friend and colleague for assistance. With last year's trophy in hand, Raptors' global ambassador Drake accompanied Ross on the floor to the tune of Started from the Bottom. Ross, wearing a boxing robe as he entered, would miss his first two attempts before eventually taking the ball from Drake, putting it through his legs and throwing it down with the opposite hand.
As it turns out, Drake was a late substitution for Ross' teammate and original assistant.
"At first I knew the dunk I wanted to do and then I was like, DeMar (DeRozan) is going to do it," said the Raptors' sophomore. "And then I was like, let me ask Drake because that would be a little better fit with him being the global ambassador, so I said that might work. I had fun with it, he was willing to help in any way he could."
In the end, Ross was happy with the format change and embraced the chance to team up rather than go at it alone.
"We got to throw off the shot clock, the backboard, bounce it off the ground," he said. "It was fun, everybody loved it."
Ross maintained the team concept allows participants to be more creative, giving each of them a greater opportunity to come up and execute something new. For that reason, he believes the format should be here to stay.
"It was fun, just coming up with certain things. I was trying to see if we could throw it off the jumbotron and see if we could do something like that but they said that would probably break it."
Format changes encapsulated the entire night, certainly not what the league was going for.
The Skills Challenge also had participants competing in teams for the first time. DeRozan - who was paired with Bucks' rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo - more than held his own, sinking the chest pass on his first attempts and nailing the jump shot from the top of the key in two tries. His partner needed three tries to complete the pass and as a result, they were eliminated in the opening round, bested by Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo by 1.7 seconds. That pair would go on to lose to Lillard and Trey Burke by a tenth of a second in the finals.
Former Raptor Marco Belinelli, the eventual winner of the Three-Point Contest, would not have made it past the first round if not for a new twist which allowed for one entire rack filled with money balls. He went on to defeat Wizards' guard Bradley Beal in a tie-breaking round.