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The NBA had one of the best All-Star Saturdays ever

A fantastic dunk contest put an exclamation point on a perfect All-Star Saturday.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday nights often seem superfluous on All-Star weekend. After Friday's Rising Stars challenge the general public starts to lose its patience and wants to get to the main event. The dunk contest had lost its luster in recent years and without its appeal, Saturday's festivities simply haven't been must-watch TV.

That will probably change after this edition. The dunk contest was the best it's been in a long time, but it wasn't the only bright spot of the night. Far from it. All three events were competitive and entertaining, and the format the league's has adopted worked to perfection to create a great experience for everyone who tuned in.

The NBA heard the fans and cut the Shooting Stars challenge, which featured a current NBA player, a current WNBA player and a legend shooting from different spots on the floor. The event often ended up being nothing more than a contest to see who could hit a halfcourt shot first and always got Saturday's festivities off to a poor start. No one will seriously miss it, except for perhaps three-time competition champion Chris Bosh.

Instead, the league decided to start the night off with the Skills Challenge, which featured a twist: big men could participate along with guards in a competition that is all about dribbling, passing and shooting. It proved to be a great idea, as it was infinitely more enjoyable to watch the bigs' side of the bracket than the guards'. Karl-Anthony Towns beating Isaiah Thomas in the final round was the perfect ending to an event that what will likely continue to be a staple of All-Star weekend.

The three-point contest has been heralded in recent years as the real main event of the day, having surpassed the dunk contest. The star power was certainly superior, as league MVP Stephen Curry showed up to defend his crown from a list of challengers that included James Harden, Kyle Lowry and Klay Thompson. When both Curry and Thompson found themselves in the final round, it had all the ingredients it needed to be the day's most entertaining competition.

Curry posted a very respectable 23 points in the final round but it was Thompson who emerged victorious by catching fire and scoring eight straight buckets twice, including a great streak to win.

A great duel between two teammates who happen to both be fantastic at what they do was going to be hard to top for the dunkers. Fortunately, Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon were up for the challenge.

The beginning of the dunk contest was not auspicious. Will Barton had a decent, but unspectacular first dunk while Andre Drummond proved that big men don't belong in the event. Then Gordon finished his first dunk -- a between-the-legs, one-handed reverse dunk -- and LaVine countered with a behind-the-back, one-handed reverse after catching the ball midair. At that point, it was obvious viewers were in for something special.

The final round was epic. Both players got perfect scores on their first dunks. Then Gordon got so high up on his second attempt that he jumped over the Magic's mascot while going under his legs, sitting in the air before finishing with a powerful reverse.

That would have ended the contest against anyone else, but LaVine was born to dunk. He floated through the air after taking off from the free throw line and finished with a windmill.

It took two more dunks from both contestants for the judges to be able to name a champion. LaVine came out on top, but the real winner was the contest itself, which once again reigned supreme on Saturday.

Will next year's events live up to this one's? It's impossible to know. The likely answer is no, as it will be hard for all the stars -- pun intended -- to align again like they did in 2016. The NBA didn't just have a good All-Star Saturday. It had one of its best ever, and the challenge now is to come as close to replicating it as possible in the future.

3 other things we learned

Draymond Green was the night's biggest loser

Draymond Green was the favorite to win the Skills Contest, since he's one of the league's leaders in assists, is shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc and routinely leads the break for the Warriors. His skill set didn't mesh well with the format of the event, apparently, because he lost to Towns in the first round. That was not the most embarrassing moment of the night, however.

Yes, that's actor and comedian Kevin Hart tying Green in a three-point contest. That has to be a tough blow for a competitor like Green. He will have to settle for being the second-best player on one of the best teams in league history, but his legacy is ruined forever after his awful Saturday night.

Devin Booker is a star in the making

Devin Booker crashed the Splash Brothers' party by being the third finalist in the three-point shooting contest. He had to beat J.J. Redick and James Harden on a tiebreak to get there and the 19-year-old did it with a poise beyond his years. He couldn't maintain that level in the final round, racking up only 16 points after getting 20 in the first round.

Booker was probably an unknown for many casual fans, as he's only recently started playing for the Suns in his rookie campaign. Those who have watched him know that his surprising performance in the contest was no fluke. He has fantastic form in his jump shot and is connecting on 40 percent of his three-pointers already. He has the potential to one day be a star in his own right, like the two who beat him on Saturday.

LaVine was great, but Gordon should have won

Zach LaVine was fantastic the past two years in the dunk contest. He should only have one trophy, though. While the Timberwolves guard put on a show, gliding through the air for big finishes, Aaron Gordon had more memorable dunks during the actual contest. In the tiebreak LaVine did better, but it should not have come to that.

LaVine was gracious in victory, repeatedly giving props to Gordon. The contest will be remembered as a duel between the two and Gordon will get the same amount of notoriety he would have gotten had he won. It still seems a little unfair that they didn't get to at least share the trophy after such a fantastic performance. Hopefully the two will return next year for a rematch.

Play of the night

There's only one choice. Here's a 360 view of the best dunk of the night.

9 fun things

The D-League dunk contest was also great.

Charles Barkley didn't think Shaquille O'Neal could still dunk. Shaq proved him wrong.

Further proof that Saturday had everything? BIG MAN BACKFLIPPING OUT OF HIS SHIRT!

Andrew Wiggins wore a shiny jacket not even Russell Westbrook would wear.

Klay Thompson's reaction to Stephen Curry's last two makes in the first round was priceless.

The sons and daughters of NBA players put on an adorable mini-dunk contest.

Shaq is a very tough grader.

The only thing better than Gordon's and LaVine's dunks were people's reactions to them.

The official score sheet couldn't contain the awesomeness of this year's dunk contest.

Event winners

Skills Challenge winner: Karl-Antony Towns (Recap)

Three-Point Contest winner: Klay Thompson (Recap)

Dunk Contest winner: Zach LaVine (Recap)

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