The USA vs World format for the Rising Stars has to go. If there ever was an exhibit A, it’s this year’s game, where Team USA’s bench annihilated Team World’s reserves. Come on, Nicolo Melli? Svi Mykhailiuk? Josh Okogie? Moritz Wagner, who missed almost half the season? Even our boy Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who either got DNP-CD or garbage time minutes in his last ten games.
Donte DiVincenzo, Duncan Robinson, Terence Davis, Matisse Thybulle, among others, have played and made much meaningful and more consistent contributions to their team than a third of the players on either roster. Play the best Rising Stars regardless of where they were born! There, I said it. Rant over. Now, on to the game.
The start of the game was unsurprisingly casual and sloppy, which is like what the last few Rising Stars games: a watered-down exhibition game. There were very little defense played, attempts at highlight play were made, and of course, there were turnovers.
Things settled down a little bit after both teams broke a sweat, some resistance was put up, and any highlights came from decently crafted plays. The trio of Canadians — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, RJ Barrett, and Brandon Clarke combined for 20 points. This put Team World ahead 28-20, but also to put USA on notice that the Canadians were taking this somewhat seriously.
While the first quarter ended with Team World ahead 39-30, the USA reserves turned up their effort a notch, after noticing how weak the World’s reserve players are. Eric Paschall went to work, dropping eleven points before the teams made their hockey substitutions midway through the second quarter.
The starters went at it for a while, often exchanging highlight plays, one after the other. Back-to-back dunks by Zion Williamson tied the game at 67 late in the second quarter, with one of them appearing to break the rim.
Legend of Zion grows: He bent the hoop on this dunk pic.twitter.com/NXCaW4U5mf— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 15, 2020
Still, a balanced effort by the World led by Barrett (15 points in the half) put the team back up by ten. The run was punctuated by Luka Doncic’s half-court buzzer-beater to close the half at 81-71.
The “first shift” of the third quarter was probably the most serious it ever got for both teams. Both displayed better effort and awareness on defense, with forced turnovers, contested shots, and shooting fouls — even a double team on Zion in the post was seen.
Clarke’s ten points in the third quarter kept Team World ahead by as much as twelve points, leading 98-86 right before the shift change. However, then Team USA’s wrecking crew came in and destroyed Team World’s bench, led by Miles Bridges’ 13-point explosion. Devonte’ Graham and Paschall added to the Team USA’s 29-7 run to close the third quarter, putting Team USA up 115-105.
The game was busted open early in the fourth quarter, as USA coach Phil Handy went with his starters to start the quarter. As a result, Team USA went on another run (18-7) to push the lead to 133-112 against Team World’s clearly outmatched reserves. The lead was out of reach at this point, even as Team World (and Raptors) coach Adrian Griffin put his starters back on with six minutes left in the game.
With two minutes to go, and the game pretty much over, it became an impromptu dunk contest. Let’s marvel at all the misses:
Rising Stars game aside, it’s pretty cool to see Ja Morant and Zion Williamson rekindle their AAU partnership. The Rising Stars game also gave us an insight into how Zion would look like on the second game of a back-to-back, as the Pelicans played Thursday night. The teams’ actual All-Stars were both on cruise control — with Luka Doncic and Trae Young picking their spots — and rarely went farther than the space between the two three-point arcs.
In “Keeping up with the Canadians” corner, Barrett paced the Team World with an all-around game 27 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals. OK, let’s qualify that with an “almost”, because he did brick all four of his perimeter shots. Clarke looked like a stud, dropped 22 points and 8 rebounds, while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 16 points, but only had three points in the second half. Nickeil Alexander-Walker had a poor shooting night, netting only six points in 12 attempts.
Miles Bridges won the Rising Stars MVP, dropping 20 points (8-of-12 FGs, 3-of-7 from three), 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals in just 20 minutes. I’ll leave this here to end the recap: