The youth of the NBA come out to shine on All Star weekend during the Rising Stars Challenge, which features young American players taking on their international counterparts. It’s always a fun game that features the same limited-defense, highlight-friendly play that the All-Star game does while providing the league’s brightest young players with an opportunity to shine.
The Los Angeles Lakers will be represented by sophomore Jordan Clarkson and rookie D’Angelo Russell, both competing for Team USA. Can the Lakers’ backcourt duo put on a show during All-Star weekend?
Team USA started Jordan Clarkson, Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns, Marcus Smart, and Jabari Parker to match up with Emmanuel Mudiay, Bojan Bogdanovic, Kristaps Porzingis, Andrew Wiggins, and Nikola Jokic for the World team. The game began as most expected, with the defense non-existent. Jordan Clarkson got things going early with back to back threes, and then a flurry of dunks from Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine got the Toronto crowd on their feet. Clarkson continued his hot shooting and knocked down two more threes, pushing his total to 12 points in just five minutes.
Kristaps Porzingis created problems inside for Team World, but Team USA continued to rely on Clarkson, who scored on a nifty backdoor cut. Overall the World team got the better of Team USA, leading 42-36 with 11 minutes left in the half. After a timeout Clarkson headed to the bench, replaced by his Los Angeles teammate D’Angelo Russell, who announced his presence by knocking down a three. Both teams still showed no interest in playing defense, and Russell took advantage by hitting another three and then finding Rodney Hood in transition with a baseball pass for a dunk.
Team USA took the lead thanks to hot shooting from Devin Booker, but Mario Hezonja was able to match Booker shot-for-shot and kept Team World in it. Russell’s passing skills started to shine in the free-flowing environment that the Rising Stars game creates, and he finished his shift with 13 points and seven assists in nearly nine minutes played. Russell came out for the final two minutes and was replaced by Clarkson, who picked up right where he left off by hitting yet another three.
Thanks to hot shooting from Clarkson, Booker, Russell, and LaVine Team USA went into halftime leading 88-79.
Team USA kicked off the second half with their reserve group of Russell, Hood, Elfrid Payton, Jahlil Okafor, and Booker taking the floor. Russell continued his strong play by hitting a three, and Booker matched it with one of his own. Russell got on a breakaway and finished a dunk with Hezonja pursuing him, but a few plays later Porzingis was able to knock away Russell’s shot at the rim.
Okafor got in on the scoring by shockingly hitting a three, which served as an instant reminder that these games are often full of bizarre happenings. The World team got within five thanks to continued strong play from Porzingis, and Team USA decided to put in their starters from the first half. Still, Team USA was able to maintain the lead thanks to a scoring burst from Zach LaVine. With 7:45 left in the game Team World trailed 130-123, and both teams would be expected to pick up their defense in crunch time.
Both teams did indeed pick up their defense temporarily, before a string of ugly plays, missed shots, and turnovers were capped off by a blown dunk by Hezonja. With just under five minutes to play Team USA had the lead, 140-133. Zach LaVine came out firing hoping to pull the USA out in front, but Mudiay responded with a three and an assist to make it a three-point game. Jordan Clarkson responded with a pair of alley-oops, first to Towns and then to Parker to give the USA some breathing room.
Devin Booker and Jahlil Okafor were subbed in for Team USA, which left Russell on the bench and likely ended his chances of winning the MVP award. However, Jordan Clarkson continued to do an excellent job representing Los Angeles, settling down his team from the point guard position and calmly knocking down four clutch free throws down the stretch. Jabari Parker finished things off with a monstrous dunk on Porzingis, and Team USA got the win, 157-154.