Wizards point guard John Wall of the Rookies strikes a quick pose while hanging… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Oklahoma City's James Harden drove hard through the lane. Players scattered as if they owed him money. Harden, rattled by the defensive exodus, missed the layup.
Welcome to the NBA's Rookie Challenge.
This was the chance for the league's young talent to show off, but there are games of H-O-R-S-E that have more defensive pressure. What did get displayed were dunks, dunks and, yes, more dunks — seven alone by the Clippers' Blake Griffin — in the Rookie team's 148-140 victory Friday night at Staples Center.
"There were a lot of dunks and a lot of highlights and no defense," said San Antonio's DeJuan Blair, who led the Sophomore team with 28 points.
Most of the highlights originated with Washington guard John Wall, who set a game record with 22 assists and was named the most valuable player. He spent a good portion of the game feeding former Kentucky teammate DeMarcus Cousins, who had a game-high 33 points for the Rookies.
"I asked before the game what the assist record was," Wall said. "I was keeping track throughout the game."
Said Cousins: "The plan was John to get the assist record and me to get the MVP. He got them both."
Wall was the official MVP, but Griffin was the people's choice. He played 14 minutes, a game low, but made seven of 10 shots and finished with 14 points.
Griffin sat out the final 13 minutes, though fans tried to lure him back into the game by chanting, "We want Blake."
Griffin stood up, eliciting squeals from a largely young crowd, then sat back down.
"That was pretty funny," he said about the chants. "I liked it."
This has the makings of the NBA's All-Star weekend, starring Griffin. In addition to the game Friday night, Griffin is scheduled to compete in the slam dunk contest Saturday night and play in the All-Star game Sunday night.
"Originally, I had agreed to do the slam dunk, and then they said I made the rookie game, and that was cool," Griffin said. "And then, fortunately, I was able to make the big game. So why not? It's a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so take advantage of it."
His weekend got off to a shaky start. He air-balled a three-point shot on the game's first possession. Things got better … fast.
Griffin loosened up for the dunk contest, starting with a casual effort, a little two-handed graze of the rim for his first points. He then became significantly more serious.
The signature moment came in the second half, when Wall fired a bounce pass-lob pass, slamming the ball off the court. Griffin grabbed it near the rim and then scored on a reverse dunk.
"If you got the ball and see No. 32 in a Clipper uniform, you can put the ball anywhere in the gym and he's going to get it," Wall said. "I knew if I bounced it high enough, he would just attack."