The slam dunk is the most exciting play in all of basketball. Nothing can inject life into an otherwise comatose crowd like a big-time throwdown, especially if that dunk is in the face of a member of the opposing team.
Dunks are worth the same as lay-ups in the box score, but a slam at the right time can completely change the dynamics of a game. Time and time again we've seen teams that looked like they were ready to pack it in for the night suddenly become energized when one of their players throws down a picture-perfect tomahawk jam.
And while recent iterations of the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest have provided us with some entertaining (if gimmicky) moments, there's something special about an amazing slam that occurs during the course of a regular season (or playoff) contest. We've seen plenty of impressive throwdowns so far this year, and a number of them are far better than the contrived dunks we're used to seeing during All-Star Weekend.
Be sure to pay close attention to Stephen Curry on this play. With Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook—perhaps the most athletic point guard in the game today—heading toward the rim with a full head of steam, Curry's body language tells the whole story.
He clearly doesn't want to get dunked on, but he can't allow Westbrook to go unimpeded, either. So Curry plays just enough defense to make it appear as though he's trying, and still manages not to get embarrassed in the process. Well played, Stephen Curry...well played.
The degree of difficulty on this dunk is insane, but LeBron James makes it look ridiculously easy. Catching an alley-oop pass and throwing it down behind your head takes a remarkable amount of both timing and athleticism, and James pulls it off with what appears to be minimal effort.
A dunk like this would be the highlight of most players' careers. Meanwhile, James probably does something similar at least twice a week during Heat practices.
Jonas Valanciunas is a rookie (and a mighty fine one, at that), so it's easy to understand why he was so willing to challenge Kevin Durant on this dunk.
Valanciunas obviously didn't see what Durant did to Brendan Haywood in the 2011 NBA playoffs—otherwise, he wouldn't have come over so quickly to help from the weak side. Valanciunas tried to spin away at the last second, but he still caught the business end of both a dunk and a nasty glare from the Durantula.
So far, Terrence Jones' pro career has been much like his time at the University of Kentucky. He'll go through spells where he looks completely pedestrian, and then he'll have a play that makes you wonder if an All-Star Game is in his future. His dunk earlier this season over Los Angeles Lakers guard Jodie Meeks was one of those plays.
Props to Meeks for being willing to take the charge, but he likely won't make that decision again anytime soon.
Tyrus Thomas thought he could have done something to prevent this jam by Malcolm Lee, but he was sorely mistaken.
The two-footed takeoff is what makes this dunk special: Not only does Lee take time to gather himself after blowing past his defender, but he cocks back and throws it down over a player who happens to be five inches taller. And since this happened during a Timberwolves-Bobcats matchup, it is probably one of the more underrated dunks of the 2012-13 season so far.
Any countdown of the best dunks of the season without Blake Griffin is fraudulent. And while this probably wouldn't even make the top 10 of Griffin's personal highlight reel, it is his best slam of the season.
On a 2-on-1 break, Chris Paul throws a perfect lob, Griffin takes off from outside of the restricted area, catches the ball and throws it down with power. Although Griffin has made us spoiled, we can't lose sight of the fact that plays like this are special and need to be appreciated as such.
Kevin Durant is the one usually giving out the medicine, so it was strange to see him on the receiving end of this dunk by Jeff Teague.
While Durant tried to square up and use his long wingspan to make the block, he had little chance of stopping Teague's drive to the basket. Guards dunking over forwards always get bonus points, and Teague even gets a few extra kudos for staring down Durant after he slammed over the three-time scoring champ.
DeMarcus Cousins' dunk over San Antonio swingman Danny Green is absolutely beautiful from start to finish. First, Cousins steals the ball, then he dribbles the length of the floor, takes off from the dotted line, dunks over Green and gets the and-1 call from the referee.
Every reason why Cousins is arguably the best center in the world not named "Dwight Howard" was on display in the span of six seconds. Kings fans should get used to seeing plenty more plays like that over the next decade.
Harrison Barnes' jersey sales will probably skyrocket very soon—what he did to Nikola Pekovic was absolutely disgusting. A two-handed facial in front of your home crowd over a player much larger than you is the dream of many basketball players, but that's exactly what Barnes did in an actual NBA game.
The reaction of the Warriors bench was reminiscent of the crowd at a hotly-contested Rucker Park summer league game. But the best part about the play isn't the dunk itself, but Carl Landry's reaction after his teammate threw it down over Pekovic. Even Golden State head coach Mark Jackson knew that he had witnessed something special.
The Harrison Barnes dunk may be the throwdown du jour, but the best slam of the season still belongs to Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green.
Green drives from the corner into the middle of the lane, takes off with his left foot outside the restricted area, and punches it over Al Jefferson, who is pretty much pinned underneath the basket by his teammates.
Even before Green's flush, a few Celtics (including an unusually animated Rajon Rondo) got up out of their seats in anticipation of what they were about to see. What they saw was a fantastic dunk—one that may not be upstaged for the rest of the 2012-13 campaign.