NBA All-Star Sunday Wrap-up
On Sunday the main event of NBA All-Star Weekend finally came: the All-Star Game itself. Early on the game progressed as these games usually do, filled with highlight dunks and no defense whatsoever, but after the Western Conference dominated the first half and the beginning of the third the Eastern Conference stormed back, coming within a point. In the end the West prevailed, 152-149.
The Amway Center in Orlando was not full to capacity for the game, though it was fuller than during All-Star Saturday night. R&B singer Mary J. Blige performed a very solid rendition of the Star Spangled Banner to kick things off. It was also noted before tipoff Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was just 19 points away from passing Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan to become the all-time leader in points scored at the All-Star Game. This becomes relevant later.
Bryant starts the game on fire, scoring 11 in the first quarter while teammate Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder ends up with 13 as the West took a 39-28 lead after one. Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin added 10 while Miami HEAT forward LeBron James led the East with 11.
Lakers’ center Andrew Bynum, the starter for the West, did not return after playing six minutes. This was actually by design because of an injection he had Friday in his knee. Laker fans relax – this was a planned procedure and not because of any tweak to the knee. Reportedly he is scheduled for these three times a year and it was just time.
The highlights of the first quarter – namely, dunks – prompted an on-air discussion by the TNT personalities and a buzz on Twitter about how stars like James, Griffin, Durant and others should have been part of the snoozy dunk contest on Saturday. The real question is would the presence of the stars actually result in a better contest? Or would it simply be more hyped? The dunks made during the All-Star Game that create this conversation happen in the course of the action (even if the defense is weak) which make them that much more impressive. If you take away the flow of the game and the defense – no matter how lackadaisical – do they still impress? That’s not saying the NBA shouldn’t do what it takes to convince stars to take part in the event, but it doesn’t guarantee better results.
Between quarters L.A. Lakers legend Magic Johnson was honored with a warm welcome by fans and players alike, in remembrance of his performance 20 years ago at the All-Star Game in Orlando the same season he retired after being diagnosed HIV positive. Johnson won MVP honors in that game.
In the second quarter both teams went more to their bench. First-time All-Star Andre Iguodala of the Philadelphia 76ers made his presence felt with a couple impressive dunks – one off a nicely illegal blockoff screen (hey, it’s the All-Star Game, right?) by Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert.
It wasn’t enough for the East. The West won the quarter 49-41 to take an 88-69 halftime lead. Those 88 points were the most the West had ever scored in the first half and the combined 157 points also set a record. Durant led all scorers at halftime with 21, followed by 17 from Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook and 14 for Bryant. HEAT guard Dwyane Wade led the East with 14 at half, followed by James with 13.
Halftime was a performance by rapper Pitbull, with appearances by Ne-Yo and Chris Brown. This was better in person than on television. Pitbull puts on a good show, but it just doesn’t translate to the small screen.
The third quarter was highlighted by two things: the East playing more physical defense and Bryant scoring his 20th point of the night to break Jordan’s all-time All-Star scoring record on a dunk. That East defense was personified by Wade accidentally giving Bryant a bloody nose with a hard foul before the record was broken.
Two other highlights came from TNT sideline reports. First, Craig Sager reported that Magic owner Rich DeVos is still confident Dwight Howard will re-sign in Orlando, so at this point it’s unlikely the Magic will trade him. As we’ve said all along, if the Magic feel there is a chance he re-signs they will not trade him and as of right now, they still think they have a chance. For what it’s worth Sager adds that Howard’s mother feels Orlando is the right place for him. The other report came from David Aldridge about Phoenix regarding point guard Steve Nash’s comment earlier that he would be open to a trade if it was in the best interests of the Suns. Aldridge reported that Suns’ owner Robert Sarver still has zero plans to trade Nash. This is consistent with what we’ve been hearing all along as well.
The East hit 18-23 from the field in the quarter to shave seven points off the West lead, cutting it down to 124-112. Durant had a strong quarter for the West and led all scorers after three with 34 points, followed by Bryant with 24. LeBron James led the East with 28 and Wade added 20.
As the fourth quarter opened the West once again tried to extend their lead, but a hot shooting East team pulled them all the way back to within three at 146-141 with 2:58 left after James nailed a deep three-pointer (he was 6-8 from three for the game). Kevin Durant answered with two points, and then New York’s Carmelo Anthony hit two free throws. On a wild possession by the West Clippers’ point guard Chris Paul found Westbrook cutting towards the hoop at the free throw line, leading to a monster throwdown by the Thunder guard. Howard answered with an easy dunk for the East, and then Durant turned the ball over on the inbounds play that led to a Deron Williams two-pointer. Blake Griffin followed a Westbrook miss for two points. Melo missed a shot, but Dwyane Wade grabbed the rebound and was fouled, hitting two free throws.
With just 22.8 seconds left on the clock the score was now 150-149 and the West led by a single point. After a timeout Bryant was fouled and he hit only 1-2 free throws with 16.3 seconds left.
Deron Williams, who finished with 20 points off the bench, missed a three-pointer for the lead, but the East ended up with the offensive rebound. With the ball deep on the floor, James forced a pass into the middle that was picked off by Griffin who was then fouled. He made 1-2 shots with 1.1 seconds left, giving the East one last shot.
But it was not meant to be. Wade missed a very difficult turnaround three-pointer at the buzzer, giving the West a 152-149 victory in one of the most exciting All-Star Games in recent memory. That was also the most combined points in an All-Star Game that didn’t go into overtime.
James and Durant led all scorers with 36 points, Kobe broke the all-time scoring record, and Wade recorded just the third triple-double in All-Star history, but the MVP hardware was given to a very deserving Durant.
Late Note: Kobe Bryant experienced headaches after the game and was to undergo further testing.