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McClung repeats as slam dunk contest champion

Osceola Magic Mac McClung - The Canadian Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Mac McClung became the fifth player in NBA history to win back-to-back dunk contests when he ended All-Star Saturday night with a clinching 50-point dunk over Shaquille O'Neal.

McClung, who became a viral sensation in high school for his high-flying dunks, broke out his high school jersey when he won the contest a year ago. This time, he brought out a much larger jersey and handed it to O'Neal, who donned the jersey and held the ball above his head for McClung's fourth and final dunk.

The 6-foot-2 McClung cleared O'Neal and finished with a reverse slam for the only 50-point dunk of the night to defeat Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics in the final.

McClung, a G Leaguer, said he told his parents about the idea of having O'Neal wear his Gate City high school jersey about five to six weeks ago, and they sprang into action. When it was time for the dunk, he said O'Neal told him one thing.

"I told him will you put it on and he said, 'You better not miss this dunk,'" McClung said. "I was like, 'All right, I won't miss it.'

"What a cool guy to do that, man. What a great guy to do that for myself and my hometown. That just shows who he is. It's really cool of him."

McClung said he had been thinking for weeks about the dunks and would stay up late at night texting his best friends videos of dunks and asking if they thought those were good enough or not.

"And they're like, 'Yeah they're good enough. Now I'm going to bed,'" McClung said jokingly.

McClung joins Zach LaVine (2015-16), Nate Robinson (2009-10), Jason Richardson (2002-03) and Michael Jordan (1987-88) as the only back-to-back dunk contest champions.

If McClung were to return to the dunk contest next season, he could become the first player to win in three consecutive seasons and would join Robinson as the only three-time champions.

"I'll think about it," he said when asked if he planned to give it a try in 2025.

Brown became the first player to compete in the dunk contest in his All-Star season since Victor Oladipo in 2018. The last player to win the dunk contest in his All-Star season was John Wall in 2014.

Brown made the final with a callback to dunk contest judge Dominique Wilkins with his first slam and then sealed the deal by jumping over YouTuber and social media sensation Kai Cenat with an assist from teammate Jayson Tatum on the toss.

"I thought I had fun," Brown said. "I think that was what the ultimate thing, was to go out and have fun. I accomplished that. It was an honor. At least I can say I did it at one point in my career, and I can live with that."

With his first dunk in the final, McClung jumped over two people -- one sitting on the other's shoulders -- for a 48.8 score from the panel, just higher than Brown's 48.6. Brown donned a Brewster Academy (New Hampshire) jersey honoring Terrence Clarke, a Boston native who played a season at Kentucky and died in a car crash just months before the 2021 NBA draft.

For his final dunk, Brown put a sequined glove on his left hand, a nod to some who have joked he doesn't go left when he drives. Brown jumped over Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell and finished with a left-handed windmill slam for a 49.2.

Needing at least a 49.1 to win, McClung's dunk over O'Neal sealed the deal.

O'Neal also was involved in the evening's first dunk. Miami Heat rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. jumped over O'Neal but needed the aid of his hand on O'Neal's shoulder to complete the jam.

After that, New York Knicks forward Jacob Toppin called upon his older brother and 2022 NBA dunk contest winner Obi for his first dunk. Like Jaquez, he decided to leap over his special guest, hitting a reverse slam.

Jaquez (94.2) and Toppin (95.0) did not qualify for the final.

Lillard defends 3-point title on last shot

Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard went back-to-back as the NBA 3-point champion, winning this year's competition on the final shot attempt. 

After getting through to the final round on a tiebreaker, Lillard made it to his final rack tied at 24 points with Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young and needing just one shot to earn the victory. 

Lillard missed the first four shots from the left corner before sinking the final one to earn the win.

"When I got to the final rack, I didn't know my exact score, but when I missed a couple, I heard the crowd just oohing and aahing," Lillard said. "Once they kept doing it over and over, I knew I was still alive because I knew they would have stopped if it had been over for me. The next two balls, I missed again, and then I grabbed the next one and I knew I needed that to win."

Lillard became the eighth player in NBA history to win multiple 3-point contests and the first to go back-to-back since Jason Kapono won in 2007 and '08. Lillard also won it last year with the Portland Trail Blazers

Like the skills challenge that preceded it, the 3-point contest required a tiebreaker after four of the eight shooters in the first round finished with 26 points -- Lillard, Young, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Karl-Anthony Towns and Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton.

Since only three players could advance to the final round, a 30-second tiebreaker was held to see which three would move on. Haliburton finished with just 12 points in that event, so the others advanced. 

Team Pacers takes skills challenge 

It took a pair of tiebreakers, but the hometown Team Pacers started NBA All-Star Saturday night with a victory in the skills challenge.

After Team All-Stars won the final challenge to tie the score at 200, the two teams faced off in a half-court challenge. Haliburton clinched the victory by draining his shot for Team Pacers, who won in roughly half the time it took Team All-Stars.

"We felt like there was a lot of energy in the building," Haliburton said. "We heard in our intros how loud the crowd gets, and that was exciting for us to be a part of.

"This whole weekend has been exciting for us to be a part of, I think we all can agree, being able to do stuff in the community, doing brand activations, all this stuff, has been a lot of fun. And good for people to see our city for what it is, rather than when they come here, they don't really go out because we play the next day or whatever. They can actually enjoy the city for what it is."

Team Pacers comprised Haliburton, Bennedict Mathurin and Myles Turner, while Team All-Stars was made up of three Eastern Conference All-Stars: the Hawks' Young, Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes and Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey.

The third team involved in the Skills Challenge was Team Top Picks, which featured 2020 No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards, 2022 No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero and 2023 No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama.

Haliburton put an exclamation point on Team Pacers' win in the first challenge, a relay event, finishing things off by going between his legs to throw it off the glass before hitting a dunk for the emphatic win.

Team Top Picks had a chance at winning the first challenge, but the right-handed Edwards opted to shoot his 3-pointers left-handed, missing all three.

The second challenge was a passing event and brought on a tiebreaker when Team Pacers and Team All-Stars each finished with 72 points. In the tiebreaker, Team Pacers earned a 92-90 win.

In the final shooting round, Team All-Stars dominated the event to tie the contest since the first two challenges were worth 100 points and the final round was worth 200. Team All-Stars took 58.8 seconds to hit its half-court shot in the tiebreaker, opening the door for Haliburton to earn the victory for his team.