The West tops the East 152-149, Despite a Furious Late Rally by LeBron James

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(Image via TimesColonist.com)

If you are the type of basketball fan who can only appreciate tight man-to-man defense, set plays, and contested shots, then the All-Star game just really is not for you. On the other hand, if fast-break points (I’m talking three-on-zero breaks in transition), thunderous dunks, and non-existent defense are more to your liking, then you would have been more than satisfied by last night’s festivities in Orlando. Thankfully NBA fans got to witness all that and more, as records tumbled, and the game, after being one-sided for over 40 minutes, surprisingly came down to the final play.

Trailing all night, at times by as many as 20 points, the East went on a thrilling run late in the fourth quarter. Led by LeBron James who dropped 36 points, including a record-tying 6 threes, one of which was quite frankly ridiculous (Off the dribble with a hand in his face), the East got to within 2 points. That was as close as they would get, however, as Deron Williams and Dwyane Wade, who finished with a triple-double incidentally, both missed three-point shots on their next two possessions.

(Image via Ultimate Rockets)

In a slightly cruel ending, LeBron turned the ball over to Blake Griffin after Williams’ miss, when he probably should have thrown up a shot himself. Once again LeBron tightens up in crunch-time. I’m kidding. Well, sort of.

It was an exciting end to a game that at times had threatened to be a run-away victory for the Western Conference. The West led 88-69 at the interval, an All-Star game record for most points scored by an individual team, and as a combined score.

I would love to think that Tom Thibodeau was forced to remind himself that he was coaching in an All-Star game and to suppress his natural instinct to start screaming at anyone and everyone. His Chicago Bulls have rarely conceded 88 points in a full game this season.

Perhaps the East was still mesmerized by Nicki Minaj’s pre-game performance, but they came out of the gates sluggishly and it did not take long for the West to open up a big lead. It was Kobe Bryant, who else, who seized the initiative, knocking down shots with authority and ending the first quarter with 11 points. Bryant entered the game 19 points short of surpassing Michael Jordan for the all-time scoring record in All-Star games. He finished with 27.

There was, of course, never a chance that he would fail to surpass MJ’s record last night. Yep, Kobe’s otherworldly competitive nature extends to All-Star games. He was more than willing to post-up and attack the likes of LeBron and Carmelo all night. Bryant even shed blood for the cause at one stage, taking a rare hard foul to the face from Wade in the third quarter that resulted in a broken nose. What is this guy going to do with himself when he finally has to retire, I wonder?

On the Western Conference team Kobe was only surpassed in scoring by Kevin Durant, whose 36 points deservedly earned him MVP honours. Like Bryant, Durant was quick to find his range and rhythm. Durant racked up 34 points through 3 quarters and it appeared that Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 42 points in an All-Star game might be in serious jeopardy. Durant, luckily for The Big Dipper, did cool off somewhat in the fourth. As it was for Wilt however, the All-Star game appears tailor-made for a player with Durant’s absurd skills. He was able to display his freakish ability to shoot from anywhere on the court, whether doubled-teamed or not, and his tremendous finishing abilities around the net.

On the subject of someone who can finish: How about Russell Westbrook? Durant’s teammate in Oklahoma City chipped in with an eye-catching display of his own. He was particularly compelling to watch in the 2nd quarter. Westbrook attacked the lane with reckless abandon (Albeit an empty lane most of the time) and sent down some vicious crowd-pleasing dunks. If someone can find me a guard in the NBA who can dunk with the sheer power of Westbrook, I would love to see him.

Perhaps the sight of a 6 foot 3 point-guard participating in his own in-game slam-dunk contest bruised some egos, because the East started to play with a greater sense of urgency in the second half. Deron Williams in particular found his stride and began knocking down shots that slowly eroded the West’s lead. We even began to see some embryonic signs of defense, although thankfully not too much. However, as LeBron re-entered the game with a little over 6 minutes remaining, the West still held a seemingly comfortable double-digit lead.

Cue the aforementioned LeBron inspired comeback. Trifectas began to fall for the East, while the West tightened up and missed shots. The game’s final minutes finally began to resemble something like a tight regular season match-up, with both teams upping the intensity on the defensive end. Time-outs were called and to everyone’s amazement, actual basketball plays were drawn-up by Brooks and Thibodeau. It was a lot of fun to watch.

All in all, it was fitting that Durant and James, the two best players on the league’s two best teams, dominated proceedings last night. Not too many would bet against them meeting in the NBA finals in June.

On a night when Kobe Bryant won deserved plaudits for breaking Jordan’s record, it is not hard to imagine a time in the future when Durant or James will eventually break the record themselves. It certainly isn’t a stretch of the imagination when witnessing how easily they scored last night. For the benefit of the near future however, I’m going to simply echo Reggie Miller’s sentiments and make one All-Star Weekend request:

Dear LeBron James,



For the sake of your legacy and to make NBA fans truly respect you again, you MUST enter the 2013 Slam-Dunk Contest. Even Cavaliers’ fans will like you after that. Well, maybe.





Sincerely,



Someone who enjoyed All-Star Weekend, but believes it could be better next year.
 

Zach Salzmann is an avid follower of the NBA. When he is not watching basketball, much to the annoyance of his girlfriend, he is watching something else sports-related.
 
 
 
 

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