A big show – that’s what All-Star Weekend usually is. Yes, there is a game to be played, yes, a collection of the league’s best players are in the same arena to go head-to-head, and yes, it’s a three-day event that entertains. It also signals a break in the NBA schedule – a short hiatus, if you will. But in this abbreviated regular season, mired by the effects of a long lockout, this All-Star Weekend provided something more than entertainment. It provided some hope for the NBA’s millions of fans.
Charles Barkley has shared more than a few words in the past month, apologizing to the fans for the poor quality of play this season. It’s true that the long lockout called for a short pre-season, not to mention the elimination of training camp altogether. Many players came in with little to no conditioning and teams had little to no time to create and master chemistry among new teammates, new coaching staffs. But this show, this event in Orlando – with the best in the league, presented nothing less than their best quality work.
The Western Conference was dominant early, scoring 39 points in the first quarter alone, en route to an 88-point first half in which they shot 60%! It was the highest score for a half in All-Star history. With Chris Paul at the point, the getting was easy. Except for the shortlived appearance of starting center, Andrew Bynum (who only played six minutes), offense for the red jerseys was a free for all at the capable hands of CP3, who had eight points on 3-7 and led the game with 12 assists. Five players scored in double figures and the West shot 53% for the night.
Kobe Bryant, at 33 years old, in his 16th year in the league and in his 14th All-Star Game, put up 27 points on 9-17, surpassing Michael Jordan with his 271 point total to become the highest scoring player in All-Star History, despite the bloody nose from an unnecessarily hard foul from Dwyane Wade. Bryant said, in a pre-game interview, that each All-Star Game has become more significant to him as he’s gotten older because he doesn’t know how many more he’s going to get. Despite playing like he’s 10 years younger, his eventual retirement looms in the background, but for the time being, there isn’t anything else fans and colleagues can do but cherish the time we’ve got left with his presence on the hardwood.
Young Kevin Durant, in just his third All-Star Game, played with the same dominance with which he plays each night he wears that Oklahoma City Thunder jersey. He played 37 minutes tonight, scored 36 points on 14-25 from the field (3-8 from 3PT), grabbed seven rebounds, handed out three assists and took three steals. It was truly an MVP-worthy performance. With a one-handed dunk courtesy of Chris Paul’s against-the-backboard lob in the first quarter, it was obvious Durant was on his way to a big night. He and his team back in OKC are no longer the kids of the league, no longer the “greenest” group of young players who hadn’t experienced enough hardship to understand the value of winning when it counts. They’ve got the best record in the NBA and his play in an exhibition game showed why.
The Eastern Conference All-Stars fell behind by as much as 20 points, but a rush of offense brought them back in the game in the fourth quarter, led by the charge of LeBron James (36 points on 15-23, 6-8 from 3PT, 6 rebounds, 7 assists. The East scored 80 points in the second half, and got within one point late in the end of the game when Durant made a lazy pass that Deron Williams intercepted and took to the bucket for a layup. After that, it was one minute and 40 seconds of helter skelter on the court, with Bryant and Griffin each making just one of their two free throws and the east heaving three pointers that never saw the bottom of the net. The West won 152-149.
No, that’s not a typo – 152-149 – defense is typically an afterthought in All-Star games. It’s a gathering of offensive juggernauts, after all, not defensive specialists (three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard, notwithstanding). It was an exciting, entertaining game that even Charles Barkley would have a hard time putting down.
This wasn’t just a weekend of basketball skills contests, basketball games or product placements. It was a chance for the league to show its good side, its fun side, its “we’re sorry for being selfish and losing sight of what really matters – our fans” side.