- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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It was the dunk of the night -- maybe even the dunk of the year -- and Xavier Henry tried to downplay it.
"Of course it felt good," Henry said after the Lakers' 116-95 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday. "At the end of the day, it’s just a bucket. It’s two points. But it’s something to get our team going, something to get everybody’s spirits up."
If you haven't seen the dunk yet, or even if you have, give it another watch and now listen to the story behind it.
The Lakers were rolling against the Pelicans, pushing a 16-point halftime lead up to 22 late in the third quarter when Henry received the ball at the top of the key from Shawne Williams who whipped it out to him from the left wing.
He had already made two 3-pointers on the night and caught it crouched behind the arc as if he was ready to shoot, so Jrue Holiday left his feet to close out hard in hopes of running Henry off the 3-point line.
Consider it the first domino to fall. Holiday went flying by Henry's right shoulder, taking Henry out of rhythm to try to attempt the catch-and-shoot 3. With Holiday out of the way, but Louis Amundson still standing in his way as he sagged off of Jordan Farmar on the right wing and settled at the foul line extended, Henry glanced to his right for the splittest of seconds.
"I was actually going to swing the ball," Henry said. "The ball was swung a little bit and then it got to be up top and I was going to swing it one more time to Jordan Farmar and when they heard him calling for it, I faked it that way and [two defenders] both jumped to that side [of the court]. So [from there], I’m pretty good at getting to the rack."
Again. Major understatement. Henry took two dribbles, picked up the ball, planted his left foot outside of the semi circle that bulges towards the basket from the free throw line, planted his right foot just inside of it and took off, cocking the ball in his left hand with his arm stretched out about as far behind his head as he could reach.
Henry and Withey were teammates together at the University of Kansas in 2009-10, but turned into a Tosh.0 "Web Redemption" waiting to happen in the blink of an eye.
"Once I got past the two [perimeter defenders], I knew it was Jeff," said Henry. "I didn’t know if he’d jump, but he decided to take a charge and that wasn’t the right thing for him."
On a night when current Kansas phenom Andrew Wiggins burst onto the national scene with a terrific 22-point, 8-rebound game against fellow top prospect Jabari Parker of Duke, it was Henry stealing the spotlight from the Jayhawks, having his dunk come in as the No. 1 play on the SportsCenter Top 10.
"I’m glad he’s doing his thing down there," Henry said of Wiggins. "I’m heard they won and I’m happy about that. I mean, hopefully they talk about us more than Kansas. But I’m glad Kansas beat Duke, though."
The dunk put L.A. up by 24 with 1:45 to go in the third. The Lakers went on to win by 21, with Henry contributing 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting to the cause when it was all said and done.
Not bad for a guy who came into the game just 6-for-26 in his last four contests. And a little sweet justice for a player who had been told by coach Mike D'Antoni in recent weeks that things wouldn't work with him on the court if he just puts his head down and blindly attacks the rim.
"It works if he does that," D'Antoni said with a laugh. "That was a heck of a dunk."
While there is still some growth for Henry to undergo, there is no denying his impact already. The Lakers are 3-0 this season when he scores 15 points or more.
"He’s going to have to learn," D'Antoni said. "He’s going to have understand when he can go, when he can’t. What’s a good shot, what isn’t. But at 22-years old, he’s doing pretty well."
Well enough to have his teammates buzzing about his dunk long after the game ended.
"Did y’all see my man’s dunk though?!" Nick Young yelled out to no one in particular when a group had reporters had finished asking him questions and gravitated towards Henry, whose locker is next to his. "That thing was crazy!"
And there was Jordan Hill: "It was definitely amazing. Jeff Withey, the crazy thing, we played in Arizona for a little bit [before Withey transferred to Kansas]. I guess he didn’t know Xavier could get up like that so he just tried to take the charge and Xavier took advantage of it."
Henry had yet to see a replay of the slam and was asked if he remembered connecting his right hand with Withey's face on the way up.
"I smacked him in the head? Oh. I didn’t mean to," Henry said, finally breaking out a bit of a cocky smile after trying to undersell the play up until that point. "That’s my guy. I like Jeff. He’s a good guy, but, he shouldn’t have been under there."