TORONTO — Minnesota guard Zach LaVine might have earned game MVP honours, but the night belonged to his Timberwolves teammate Andrew Wiggins.
The Vaughan, Ont., native poured in 29 points on an array of dunks and jump shots in Friday night’s NBA All-Star Rising Stars Challenge — which also served as a welcome home party for the young Canadian star.
"I got to play in front of a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time," Wiggins said. "My family and friends got to watch it. It’s great being back home and playing for my hometown."
LaVine scored 30 points to lift the United States to a spirited 157-154 victory over Wiggins’ World Team, and hoisted the MVP trophy.
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Toronto’s Dwight Powell finished with 12 points and 11 boards and Saskatoon’s Trey Lyles had two points.
Wiggins said it meant "a lot" to suit up with two Canadian teammates.
"It just shows the rise of Canadian basketball. Before, no one ever thought they’d have Canadians in this game, but it’s good," he said.
All three Canadians received loud ovations from the Air Canada Centre crowd, the loudest reserved for Wiggins, the reigning NBA rookie of the year.
Asked in the post-game press conference if they’d had a chance to meet and mingle with any of the superstar players in town, a grinning Jordan Clarkson said, tongue in cheek: "Yeah, I talked to Andrew Wiggins. He’s like the biggest star in Toronto, so being here on the podium with him is like I’m kind of starstruck right now."
The players put on an offensive showcase, throwing down huge dunks and hoisting up three-point shots. Defence was token at best. They got serious down the stretch, and an ACC crowd that included NBA stars James Harden and Carmelo Anthony played along, noisily cheering Wiggins each time he had the ball.
A dunk by Jabari Parker gave the U.S. a two-possession lead to clinch the game.
"You know what? It felt good, not for myself but because my team needed it," Parker said. "And the win, that was big because we represent our country every time we have USA on our chest. We try to do that to the maximum."
Clarkson had 25 points for the U.S., while Devin Booker had 23, D’Angelo Russell had 22, and Karl-Anthony Towns chipped in with 18 as eight American players finished with double-digit point totals.
Denver Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay of the Democratic Republic of the Congo led the World team with 30 points and 10 assists, including a beautiful backward pass between his legs to Powell, who finished with a dunk.
New York Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis poured in 30 points in the game that was played in two 20-minute halves.