The Eastern Conference may be far inferior to the West this season as far as serious competition goes, but on Sunday night the All-Stars from the East showed the world that there’s still plenty of talent at the top end of their conference and defeating the West 163-155. The comeback win, led by All-Star Game MVP Kyrie Irving with 31 points and 14 assists, broke a three-game winning streak for the Western Conference in All-Star play.
Multiple records fell in Sunday night’s game, including most combined points scored in a game (the previous record was 303), most points scored by half-time, most 3-pointers scored by an individual player (Carmelo Anthony had eight as part of his 30 point performance) and most field-goals scored by a single player. That player was Blake Griffin, who had made 19 field goals and, along with Kevin Durant, had 38 points, coming agonizingly close to breaking the great Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star record of 42 points in a game.
It was a game filled with ferocious dunks (dunks that were infinitely more entertaining than anything on show in the earlier dunk contest), uncontested lay-ups, 3-point bombs and zero-help defense—in fact, no defense of any kind. It would be hard to blame Pacers coach Frank Vogel—who coaches the best defensive team in the NBA—if he was grimacing slightly at the lack of defense on show. It was all-offense. And it was a lot of fun.
Sunday night’s festivities opened with a performance by Pharrell Williams—and boy did he ever put on a show. Pharrell went through an abbreviated version of his greatest hits, and performed with Nelly at various points throughout the show (the 2001 versions of us were very happy), as well as with P.Diddy, Busta Rhymes (who was looking different than we remember) and Snoop Dogg/Lion.
The game itself was scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.—and it was 9 p.m. by the time the teams tipped off. It was well worth the delay. Pharrell single-handedly erased the disappointment of a mediocre Saturday night. Okay, not quite, but almost.
After the anthems—and multiple jokes about whether Western Conference coach Scott Brooks would insert Kendrick Perkins into the starting line-up—the game finally got under way. LeBron James set the tone early with a steal followed by a vicious dunk, opening the East up with a 11-2 lead. In fact, throughout the game, LeBron showed everyone why so many people were clamoring for him to enter the slam dunk contest. Some of his dunks last night, including a thunderous reverse in transition, could have stolen the show in previous Dunk Contests.
The West finally got themselves going when last year’s MVP, Chris Paul, entered the game. He and Griffin connected on a succession of breathtaking alley-oops—it was like watching a Clippers game on steroids. Griffin ended the quarter with 18 points—just two shy of the all-time record of points scored in a single quarter—and the West leading 44-42.
The second quarter saw the starters get some rest. The benches emptied, with the likes of Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki, John Wall, Joe Johnson (ugh) and the Raptors’ own DeMar DeRozan getting some playing time. Kobe Bryant, sidelined with injury, joined Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and Reggie Miller in the booth for 10 minutes or so. Bryant was, of course, asked about LeBron James’ ‘Mount Rushmore’ comments.
On the court, the West opened up a big lead with a 16-4 run, as the crowd got to see their hometown boy, Anthony Davis. Davis, who’ll be an All-Star for years to come, didn’t disappoint, throwing down a couple of big slams to extend the West’s first-half dominance. Steph Curry (whose shooting was off last night, for the most part) and Kevin Durant both finished the half with 3-pointers. The West went into the break leading 89-76.
After a Janelle Monae/Earth, Wind & Fire collaboration, the second half began as the first half finished—with more West dominance. The West hit the 100-point mark with nine minutes left in the quarter. After another 3-pointer from Durant and a beautiful move from Curry inside the lane, Vogel was forced into taking a time out. The East would be down by as many as 18 points before mounting their furious comeback.
Led by Irving’s play in the paint (the guy has the sickest handles in the NBA) as well as a highlight reel-worthy crossover on Damien Lillard from John Wall, the East went on an 18-3 run to end the third quarter. The comeback was on.
At the start of the fourth, Irving dazzled Dwight Howard before finishing with a tear-drop in the lane, the East now trailing by just a single point. With eight minutes left, Durant and LeBron were brought back into the game, and things were set up perfectly for a showdown between the game’s two best players. But it was Irving, who seemed to be enjoying a break from the toxic dysfunction in Cleveland, who continued to steal the show.
As the game went down the wire, defenses tightened up (a little) and the teams actually ran some basketball plays. LeBron and Joakim Noah—not typically the best of friends—ran a little pick-n-roll action before Irving gave the East a one-point lead. Curry dropped a 3 down at the other end, but Irving came right back with a 3-pointer of his own to give the advantage back to the East.
Durant would follow that up with one more 3 to give the West its own one-point lead, but after that, the East took control and went on a 10-0 run. Paul George was fouled shooting a 3, Melo dropped his eighth 3-pointer after an Irving offensive rebound and George iced the game with a couple more free throws after Durant missed at the other end.
The East’s losing streak in All-Star play had finally come to an end. Adam Silver handed the MVP trophy over to its deserving winner, Kyrie Irving.
Speaking of Silver, he might have to re-think some of the Saturday night All-Star events going forward. The new dunk contest format fell brutally flat, and the other events—Three-Point Shooting Contest excluded—are in dire need of a revamp. That said, Sunday night’s showcase was a ton of fun—easily the best part of the entire weekend. No revamp needed here.
But let’s just all agree to ban those awful sleeved jerseys.