Time for All-Star Weekend, and this season the NBA held their annual mid-season meeting of the minds in New Orleans, Louisiana. Which meant players were forced to wear Mardi Gras colored shoes and hideous fleur-de-lis inspired jerseys. But aside from the fashion faux pas in the Big Easy, it was a full two days of great entertainment for hoops fans.
There’s something particularly interesting about basketball’s All-Star festivities when compared to the other major leagues’ versions: it’s actually a lot of fun to watch!
Sure, the All-Star game itself generally doesn’t see much defense until half way through the 4th quarter, but this year fans were treated to a hotly contested game as LeBron James admitted he really wanted this one. King James has taken criticism of the East as a whole personally, and he rallied his conference teammates to make a concerted effort to get the win on Sunday night.
The East’s 163-155 victory over the West broke not only a three-year losing streak, but also the record for the most points scored in an All-Star game.
We’ll get back to the game in a moment, but first let’s look at Saturday’s skill competitions.
Brace yourself, this is going to be a Youtube extravaganza.
A couple of years ago John Wall of the Wizards was openly critical of Blake Griffin winning the Dunk Contest after dunking over a car. He wasn’t taking a personal crack at Griffin, just stating his opinion that the judges were unfairly biased against his teammate JaVale McGee because the contest was being held in Los Angeles. He noted that the dunk itself wasn’t all that special and that for Griffin, leaping over the hood of a KIA is hardly much of a challenge.
On Saturday Night Wall enacted a wee bit of revenge as he led the East to a 3-0 victory in the NBA Dunk Contest’s new team format.
All in all, fans received the team structure of the event coolly, and inasmuch as I appreciate the league trying to spice things up, I tend to agree. My guess is that they’ll switch back to an individual competition next season after all the criticism that flowed across social media platforms.
The 90-second freestyle portion of the event was more than just silly. There were a few sweet dunks in there, but trying to hurry as many “decent” dunks as possible shouldn’t be the point. That’s what games are for. The whole idea is to take your time and come-up with something really special.
Which is what John Wall did in the “Battle” round.
Wall received the most fan votes and scored “dunk of the night” for this beauty, where he goes to show that you can dunk over an object (or a person) and do something special with the ball at the same time:
Wall’s dunk was creative, physically impressive, and a joy to watch all at the same time. All too often creativity leading up to a dunk takes center stage, leaving the actual slam a bit limp. Which is really what Wall was trying to say when he was critical of Griffin’s title back in 2011.
Anyhow, since I promised more videos, let’s get to it. First off, here’s my favorite dunk of McGee’s from that 2012 contest:
And if you noticed the old guy alley-ooping that third money ball … that was Larry Nance. Nance won the inaugural Dunk Contest back in 1984, defeating Dr. J, the champion of the first ever ABA slam dunk competition in 1976 prior to the merger.
You know I love Old School. Let’s watch Larry go to work in his way-too-short bball trunks:
Marco Berinelli: it’s not a brand of pasta, he’s the current 3-point Shoot-Out champion and a member of the San Antonio Spurs.
Here ‘s a recap of the three-point shoot-out that Beal forces into a tie-breaker. Belinelli was clutch with money balls in the end, taking the title with his best scoring round of the night.
Skills to pay the bills.
With the tightest victory in the 12-year history of the Skills Challenge, Damian Lillard of the Blazers and Trey Burke of the Jazz beat out the East team by one-tenth of a second.
The title was the second in a row for Lillard, who won last year when it was still an individual contest.
Holy All-Stars Batman!
In a great fit of irony, the same thing that makes the NFL Pro Bowl incredibly boring brings a whole lot of excitement to the NBA All-Star game: no defense.
It might sound hypocritical, but it’s not.
Basketball is the kind of sport that can be exciting with only one player out on the court. We’ve got slam dunks, deep threes, trick shots, fancy dribbling, no look passes … ok, maybe you need more than one guy for a no look pass, but you get the point.
A lack of proper defense facilitates all this fun stuff that we like to see, and basically turns the affair into a real-life video game, with all our favorite stars in 6-foot-8 format.
Seriously, check out the top ten plays from the game. There are some jaw-dropping alley-oops in there that make me want to throw up an extra short eight-foot hoop in the driveway and invite my neighbors over to watch me dunk over my dog:
Kyrie Irving led the East with 31 points, 5 boards, and a whopping 14 assists and was voted Most Valuable Player in the game. It’s a bright spot in a difficult year for Irving as the Cleveland Cavaliers are struggling and 13 games under .500.
Carmelo Anthony broke the record for treys with 8 three point shots. He finished with 30 on the night.
For the west, 76 points came from just two players. Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant tallied 38 each, leaving both just four shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s record. It’s a wonder that in all the high scoring All-Star games we’ve seen over the years that Wilt’s mark still stands.
At one point during the game the West led by 18 points, but the East crawled back and trimmed the deficit to three by the end of the third quarter. MVP Irving bested Stephen Curry for point guard of the game by scoring 15 points in the final period and leading his conference to victory.
Moving forward and on to the Finals.
Ramping back up again after the break, if teams are going to make a push, now is the time to do it.
In the East, the Central and Southeast Divisions are all but sewn up, with Indiana and Miami leading the pack by 13 and 12 games respectively. With three more wins and two less losses the Pacers currently hold the #1 seed over the Heat, but neither team is likely the let up heading down the stretch. Let’s see if Paul George and Roy Hibbert can keep the pressure on and dethrone Miami.
The Toronto Raptors lead the Atlantic by 3.5 games over the Brooklyn Nets, but even with Garnett and Pierce the sub .500 club hardly appears to be a threat. Either way the division winner will be a huge underdog heading into the post-season, as will every Eastern Conference squad seeded #3 or below.
Divisional competition is tighter in the West, with the three Texas teams all within 6.5 games of each other. San Antonio leads the Southwest, but Houston is close behind and Dallas could be within striking distance with one short burst of victories.
The recent cooling off of the Blazers makes it unlikely they’ll catch OKC in the Northwest, and in the Pacific both Phoenix and Golden State are five back of Griffin and the Clippers. At this point it appears as though Doc Rivers’ club has found the consistency they need to stay on top all season long, but there’s still an awful lot of basketball left to be played.