Tim Hardaway Jr. knocks down a 3-pointer on Friday night in the Rising Stars Challenge. (Christian Petersen / Getty Images)
New Orleans — What started as a friendly banter turned into impressive and heated competition between former Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday.
Every year it happens. Last year, it was Waiters’ teammate Kyrie Irving and then-Piston Brandon Knight going head-to-head, much to the delight of the crowd and their teammates who loved watching the show.
The Knicks’ Hardaway and Waiters gave everyone what they were looking for in the second half of the game, trading long triples on multiple possessions. Neither backed down, both kept shooting and everybody was on the edge of their seats — including Hardaway’s famous father, who was in attendance.
When the multiple onslaughts were over, Hardaway and Waiters both were in contention for the Most Valuable Player award, which went to Pistons center Andre Drummond.
“It was great. We saw the fans standing up, saw (Kevin Durant) and James Harden on the sidelines getting into it as well,” Hardaway said. “It feels great, a wonderful opportunity. You got to enjoy the moment, embrace it and have fun.”
Hardaway launched a game-high 23 shots for a game-high 36 points, while Waiters made 10 of 14 to score 31 with seven assists.
“We knew from the get-go he was gonna go hard said Wizards guard Bradley Beal said of Hardaway.
He and Waiters were playfully barking all night — at least, that’s what it appeared to be.
“He came down and made a shot; I came down and made a shot and once the crowd got into it, I knew it was on,” Waiters said. “I told him, ‘I’m coming right back, I’m coming right back.’”
It had everyone in awe, including former Hardaway teammate Trey Burke, as the two were reunited for one night.
“It was just like, ‘Get out the way.’ Give the two of them the ball, and get out the way,” Burke said.
“That's what it turned into ... and we didn't plan for that to happen. They talked about it out there on the court, but I had the ball in my hands, and I'm going to give Tim the ball back.
“I want him to go back at him. He hit a shot, Dion came back and hit a shot, and it became a 1-on-1 matchup, and it became a great performance he put on out there.”
Burke scored six points, missing nine of his 12 shot attempts in 20 minutes but didn’t seem too disturbed by the performance in the exhibition, considering Hardaway Jr. and Waiters put on a shooting exhibition.
“A couple. I've seen him hit maybe six or seven shots in a row like that a couple times, to where he's in that mold, and he's just hot,” Burke said.
The two had a competitive exchange in an earlier TNT game against the Cavaliers and Knicks, and perhaps Friday featured some carryover, after Hardaway launched a triple late in a blowout that Waiters deemed unnecessary.
“He talked to me about before the game, and we were just trying to do a great job of just getting the fans involved,” Hardaway Jr. said. “It was kind of dead in there and we just wanted to start something, a little one-on-one battle here and there.”