Kenneth Faried reaches back to drop the hammer. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBA/Getty Images)
HOUSTON — Kenneth Faried said on Friday afternoon that the best way for a high-motor, energy-and-rebounding big man like him to stand out in a typically guard-dominated exhibition like the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge is to "help lead his team to victory." He did just that on Friday night, scoring a game-high 40 points on 18 of 22 shooting, including an array of rim-rattling dunks, and grabbing 10 rebounds in 22 minutes to lead Team Chuck to a 163-135 win in the annual rookie/sophomore challenge.
Faried came out of the gate energetic and aggressive, scoring 19 points on 11 shots in the first half, and even occasionally trying hard on the defensive end — a standard for the Denver Nuggets power forward, a rarity in contests like this, which even prompted Team Shaq coach David Fizdale to, as TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager noted, call a timeout to discuss how to combat Faried's defensive disruption.
There was absolutely no defensive disruption during the game's final few minutes, when Faried and Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Dion Waiters took turns throwing down uncontested slam dunks as the other members of the two teams just moved off to the side of the floor to watch the show.
"Me and my team came out pretty much as focused," Faried told Sager after the game. "We wanted to get the win. We didn't want to go home with the loss.
"And we was worried about the 25K," he added, sniffing then smiling as he referenced the $25,000 bonus each player on the winning team in the game receives.
After the game, Faried confirmed what he'd said during the media session earlier in the day — that he entered Friday night with a purpose.
"I came out with the intent to put on a performance," he told reporters. "But I wasn't thinking MVP-type of performance. I was just thinking about winning the game and enjoying myself, and pretty much enjoying the game."
Of course, it's easy to enjoy yourself when you're getting loose for the kind of scoring night you've only dreamed about. Not only did his 40 points tie Russell Westbrook (2010) for the second-highest output in Rising Stars/Rookie-Sophomore Challenge history (behind Kevin Durant's 46 in 2009), but it also might just be a new personal best for Faried in all competitions. Asked when the last time he got 40 was, Faried answered, "I would say never in my life."
"I never got over 30," he said. "Well, actually, I never got to 30. I would always be stuck at 29, 28 [...] Missed too many free throws."
That wasn't a problem on Friday — Faried made all three of his freebies, and even a 3-pointer, which surprised some onlookers.
"I always had [that range] — just don't pull it out in games," Faried said. "Coach Karl won't let me."
In a game that was largely laconic and uninspired, Faried's live-wire energy stood out, a fact he chalked up after the game to his passion for the game.
"When I'm out there, I have fun and enjoy myself," he said. "I love this game and I want to play it for a long time."
And for those concerned that the dunks Faried threw down in the final minutes — highlighted by a powerful two-handed windmill — would compromise Faried's arsenal for Saturday night's big Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, the Nuggets forward said they needn't worry.
"That was just a preview. Everybody got a sneak preview," Faried said. "That's nothing compared to what I'm going to do tomorrow."
Get excited, y'all.
Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving, the MVP of last year's Rising Stars Challenge, led Team Shaq with 32 points, six rebounds and six assists, and had the highlight of the night when he bedeviled Brandon Knight with a filthy between-the-legs/crossover dribble that sent the Detroit Pistons guard to the deck.
So nasty was the move, and Irving's performance overall, that he received two votes for Most Valuable Player of a game his team lost by 28 points, according to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal. (I mean, I'm not going to argue.)
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