Live from the Rookie Challenge

02.15.08 10 years ago 16 Comments
IMAGE DESCRIPTIONRudy Gay (Photo. Tina Williams)

Running diary of the Rookie Challenge. Keep checking in during the game for periodic updates…

Just like last year, T-Mobile has seen to it that most (pretty much all) of the crowd consists of kids, and most of tem are wearing pink T-Mobile jerseys with “New Orleans” and “08” on the back. You know what that means: Lots of high-pitched screaming.

Al Horford introduces the Rookie roster. Kevin Durant gets the loudest ovation (you’d think he was Omarion or something), and Sean Williams gets a surprisingly deafening scream from the kids.

Rudy Gay introduces the Sophomores. He messes with Jordan Farmar, asking him “What’s your name again?” before introducing him, then kinda butchers LaMarcus Aldridge‘s name.

Chris Paul (sitting next to Deron Williams) is shown on teh big screen and the kids go berserk. Kevin Garnett gets a loud scream, and LeBron (with his girl) gets the loudest cheer of the night so far. I think I’m already deaf.

Tip-off is slapped out of bounds by Horford. Your starting five for the Sophs: Rajon Rondo, Brandon Roy, Andrea Bargnani, Rudy and LaMarcus. Bargnani gets the game’s first bucket on a drive-and-dunk, and Rondo hits Rudy for an alley-oop seconds later.

The Rookie starting five: Durant, Jeff Green, Luis Scola, Mike Conley and Horford.

Bargnani misses a dunk, but comes back with a jumper on the next possession. Scola scored the first FG for the rookies.

This is the first time I’ve seen LaMarcus play in person since last season, and he’s significant thicker (no Cam’ron). If Greg Oden pans out, the Blazers are going to be REALLY good in a few years.

Players on celebrity row: LeBron, KG, Chris Bosh and I think it’s Caron Butler, but my eyesight ain’t what it should be; I forgot to get some new contacts before I left.

As I was checking the front row, I missed a Durant dunk that sounded like a bomb going off. Gotta love super-loud rim mics.

The answer the “Who’s gonna guard Rudy Gay?” question that I’ve had ever since I saw the rosters, Jeff Green is the guy drawing that assignment. Green is a solid defender — don’t let that 48 (and the game-winner) he got put on him by Kobe be your only point of judgment.

During a break in action, Chris Paul is interviewed on the big screen and the kids go nuts again. He tells us why the Sophs are gonna crack the rookies. Alas, it’s a tie ballgame, 15-up, with 14:27 to play in the first half.

B-Roy hits Rudy for another alley-oop. After Rondo grabbed a one-handed rebound, I’m asking myself who are the best rebounding point guards in the League. I got Jason Kidd, Baron Davis and Rondo on my short list.

J.C. Navarro checks in and immediately gets it to Durant for a reverse dunk, and Horford follows that up with a putback dunk on the next possession. The rookies might actually make this one competitive.

Yi Jianlian, Sean Williams, Farmar, Jamario Moon and Paul Millsap are also in the game now. Moon just lurks around the baseline looking for a stick-back dunk or an alley-oop.

Daniel Gibson checks in and hits a three. At Media Day earlier, I talked to Gibson for a minute, after every reporter around him was trying to get him to say he was a better shooter than Damon Jones. Boobie wouldn’t bite, but he did say he’s a better three-point shooter than LeBron — quickly adding that it’s the only thing he’s better than LeBron at.

Mascot dunk contest during the break. The mascots from Orlando (not sure what he’s supposed to be), Portland (some kind of mammal), Toronto (a Raptor) and Milwaukee (a Buck) throw down increasingly better dunks than the mascot in front of them. On the next round of dunks, the Raptor tosses an alley-oop for the Buck, who misses and lands on his back hard. The mascots are joined by the Milwaukee Bucks’ “Rim Rockers,” a trampoline-dunking group who I saw at the New Orleans airport when I arrived on Thursday.

Yao Ming‘s sitting courtside now.

Moon gets a powerhouse tomahawk dunk on the break. He’s got ups. He actually had one of the bigger Media Day crowds around him during the All-Star Saturday Night session.

So Jordan Farmar can dunk after all. Those yoga sessions in Bora Bora with Ha-Seung Jin and Lamond Murray are paying off. On the next play, Farmar leaves it for a trailing Millsap, who blows the dunk.

Back-to-back threes by Gibson makes it 40-36, Sophomores. I feel like the big run is coming.

Yi tries to take Millsap off the dribble, which doesn’t work, but Yi recovers and gets a dunk. Gibson follows that up with ANOTHER three. He’s already got 15 points.

Roy goes up in the lane for a shot and gets clobbered by Sean Williams. B-Roy looks at him kinda crazy initially, then starts smiling. It’s just an exhibition, fellas.

I just got an e-mail from one of my boys watching the game on TV that they just said Millsap has never missed a game in high school, college or the NBA. Watch out, A.C. Green.

The Rookies leave Gibson wide open for some reason, but his three rattles out. Millsap gets the putback and the Sophs are up 51-44 with three minutes left in the half. Three minutes until I address the growling in my stomach.

Gibson knocks down another three. He’s got 18 points in the first half. MVP?

As Gibson is taking the ball upcourt, Moon and Sean Williams get up off the Rookie bench and take swipes at the ball as Gibson passes them.

LaMarcus runs the floor hard to get a pass from Farmar and finish with a dunk. Another trey for Gibson, followed by a dunk by Durant. Then the Jazz sophomore hook up for some of that famous interior passing — Millsap to Brewer for a dunk. Farmar hits a three, and with 20 seconds left in the half the Sophs are up by 16. Looks like ballgame.

Oh wait, Durant just dunked it before the buzzer. 14-point game at the half. Off to get some food…

Nachos, hot dog, pop: $12. I’ve seen worse.

Jordin Sparks performed at halftime. I caught the tail-end, right when she sang something about, “Just like a tattoo, I’ll always have you.” Genius.

Halftime stats: Gibson scored 21 points in 10 minutes, hitting 7-for-12 beyond the arc. B-Roy has 13 points, while Rudy Gay has 11. Farmar has 6 assists and 3 steals. Durant has 15 points to lead the Rookies, Horford has 13 (plus 7 boards), and Sean Williams has 12 points.


Both teams start the half with the same starting five they had at the beginning of the game. Which reminds me that Scola didn’t really do anything in the first half.

The Sophs open the scoring with an alley-oop from Roy to Rondo. Rondo tries to get Rudy Gay on the next possession, but his pass is too high.

After Durant spends about 15 seconds trying to shake Bargnani before bricking a jumper, Rudy wets a three on the other end. I’ve been saying for over a year now that there’s no reason Rudy can’t be as good as people are projecting Durant to be.

Roy feeds Rondo for another bucket, and the Sophomores are up, 75-58. The beating has set in. Rondo sends it to a commercial break with his fake behind-the-back move which leads to a pass to LaMarcus for a dunk.

The Hornets’ kiddie dance team comes out as the announcer says, “Are you ready for some hometown hip-hop?” Well, when you put it like that, no. Then for some reason, during the t-shirt toss, they bring out inflatable versions of the mascots from Orlando, Toronto and Portland, which are WAY more creepy than the real ones. The Raptors’ one is legitimately frightening.

A LaMarcus dunk makes it an official 20-piecing. Then Bargnani carries or travels or does something illegal twice while dribbling up the court, but no call is made.

Jeff Green (my favorite rookie) gets a dunk, a three and another dunk on consecutive possessions to bring the Rookies within 14.

Alone on the break with Rudy Gay trailing, Rondo tries a lefty windmill dunk and misses. On his next touch he hits Bargnani with a nice backdoor feed for a dunk. Pass the rock, Rajon.

Durant beats Rudy down the floor for an effortless double-pump two-handed dunk. Of course, everything Durant does looks effortless.

Gibson’s back in, but instead of jacking a three, he hits Rudy for a nice alley-oop. Then Moon hits a three. This is the portion of the game where everyone tries new things. I’m expecting Yi to break out the crossover any second now.

Gibson raises and wets another three in Moon’s eye. He’s got 24 points on 8 threes and is the odds-on favorite to take MVP. Last year I predicted Monta Ellis would get MVP, and while he scored a lot of points, the trophy went to David Lee. This year my pick was Rudy Gay.

During a “Name that Tune” contest during the break, Ne-Yo surprises the crowd and the kids are disgustingly loud. He’s with some other guy, Corbin Blue, and I have no idea who he is. Fun fact about Ne-Yo: He’s a TERRIBLE ballplayer. Last year I was at a charity event at MSG where Ne-Yo had to make a free throw and a jumper from the top of the key and the charity would have been given a bunch of money. He took three tries from each spot and barely drew iron most of the time, throwing up a few air-balls while he was at it. He shoots lefty and looks like he’s never played a day or organized ball in his life.

One more three for Gibson. On the other end, Yi breaks out some impressive post moves, which would have been better if LaMarcus Aldridge wasn’t playing something between half-assed and quarter-assed defense.

While Farmar shoots free throws, LeBron gets up and walks on the court like a coach to talk to Gibson. Carlos Boozer and ‘Melo have joined the courtside crew, along with Doc Rivers.

Sean Williams — who’s been the Rookies best player — tries to go coast-to-coast until his crossover attempt goes South. That gets Rudy Gay up off the bench cracking up.

Four minutes remaining and the Sophomore are up by 20. Navarro gets a steal and a triple. He’s like a right-handed Manu Ginobili who hasn’t peaked as a player or as a source of irritation to opponents and fans. It’s coming, though, just watch.

I feel like I haven’t seen Horford in a long time. I hope he didn’t get hurt like Deron Williams did last year.

Gibson hits another three. A lot of his damage has been done to Moon, and on the next trip down the Rookies put Sean Williams on him. Then they go to some kind of zone, which Gibson shreds with another three. He’s got 33 points.

Moon and Yi miscommunicate on an alley-oop, then Yi misses a dunk underneath.

Brewer puts the exclamation point on with a windmill dunk, then a two-hand dunk over two guys. One last possession, and Gibson is looking for another three. Pressured by Williams, he air-balls, but he’s got the MVP locked up anyway.

FINAL: 136-109, Sophomores. The MVP goes to Boobie, who finished with 33 points on 11 triples. He shot 11-for-20 from the field, all threes. Farmar had 17 points, 12 dimes and 4 steals. Rudy Gay had 22 points. Roy had 17 and 7 dimes. For the Rookies, Durant had 23 points, Sean Williams had 17 and 10 boards, Horford had 19 and 7 boards.

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