The 67th NBA All-Star game came to a close Sunday evening with a highly entertaining contest between Teams LeBron and Curry that confirmed the success of the brand new format. Team LeBron earned All-Star Weekend L.A. bragging rights with a tight three-point win, 148-145.
The game began with a high level of intensity not often witnessed in the All-Star Game, with LeBron James setting the tempo from the start. Players were moving their feet, filling lanes, and squaring off their opponents on the defensive end — concepts largely absent from previous exhibitions. Unsurprisingly, this opening flurry was not sustained beyond the game’s opening minutes. After all, All-Star Weekend remains above all a social happening for NBA royalty.
Aside from the torrid start to the game, it was also odd to see Dwane Casey and his staff coaching against his Raptors all-NBA backcourt. Both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan did Toronto proud. Lowry filled up all the columns on the stat sheet as he usually does with (4 points, 7 rebounds, 11 assists and 2 steals — yes, steals!). Hometown favourite DeRozan scored a team-high 21 points (tied with Damian Lillard). He began the game by draining a three as if to reinforce that his improved proficiency behind the arc in the season’s first half was no fluke.
The second and third quarters did not feature stellar fundamental basketball. It was mostly outrageously long threes and sick alley-oops, headlined by LeBron’s ridiculous reverse dunk off a deft feed from Kemba Walker.
Fortunately, much like the opening minutes, the fourth quarter was very watchable — and in fact, the final four minutes were downright compelling. Both squads tightened their defenses, although some of the match-ups like LeBron against Joel Embiid were a bit bizarre. LeBron looked to exploit this, but the prodigious 76ers big man stood his ground and later came up with a massive block in the closing minute on Paul George. Still, it was Team LeBron’s slick passing plays that won the day.
Last year’s reigning MVP Russell Westbrook was unable to hold onto his title (though the win probably felt pretty good for him too). While both DeRozan and Damian Lillard made strong cases for the honour with red-hot fourth quarters, King James added another All-Star MVP to his extremely long list of awards. He finished the game with 29 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists — and chipped in, with Kevin Durant, to stifle Team Curry’s late attempt at a game tying three. Oh what could have been when the ball swung to DeRozan in the corner!
Overall, the weekend was a success, with both the players and the fans clearly enjoying the new format. (Yes, even the late review that was required to figure out possession with less than a minute left.) The only blemish on the All-Star festivities was the decision not to televise the draft, which I strongly suspect will be rectified for next year’s edition. We’ll see what happens then.
Now, back to the regular season.