All-Star Weekend came to a close on Sunday night as the Western Conference defeated their Eastern Conference counterparts 163-158 in the 64th NBA All-Star Game. The West has now defeated the East in four of the last five events.
The likes of Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Floyd Mayweather and Bill Clinton (the former president got the loudest cheer of the night), all in attendance courtside at MSG, were treated to the usual mix of wildly entertaining All-Star Game shenanigans: three-point gunning, behind-the-back passes and lots of dunking. Even old man Dirk Nowitzki got in on the action. A rare dunk from the big German was celebrated with a Vince Carter-esque point to the sky. His teammates on the bench couldn’t contain their laughter.
Russell Westbrook top-scored with 41 points for the West (on 16-28 shooting). Westbrook took home MVP honours and came agonizingly close to tying Wilt Chamberlain’s 1962 All-Star Game record of 42 points, while James Harden put up a near triple-double with 29 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. LeBron James led the way for the East pouring in 30 points and setting the pace early on. Kyle Korver, one of four Atlanta Hawks in the game, scored 21 points, hitting seven three-pointers.
And speaking of three-pointers, there were 113 attempts between the two teams, an All-Star Game record—somewhat symptomatic of the modern game’s infatuation with the trifecta.
Here’s some more NBA history made Sunday night. The Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc, became the first brothers to start in the same All-Star game. Spain should be very proud. Their hug at mid-court, just prior to tip-off, was one of the more memorable moments of All-Star Weekend. Something tells me that if Chicago and Memphis meet in the NBA Finals this June—a real possibility—the hugs will be temporarily set aside.
Not so memorable was Carmelo Anthony’s performance. The de-facto host of All-Star weekend had a game to forget in front of his adoring home fans, going 6-of-20 from the field—a performance emblamtic of the Knicks’ sorry season. Anthony has likely seen his final action of the 2014-2015 season. Knee surgery awaits for the eight-time All Star.
Despite their hometown hero’s underwhelming display, fans at MSG still had plenty to keep them entertained. As is usually the case, the game began with a series of uncontested dunks, lay-ups and a general lack of defence—no one really tries in All-Star games until things get close down the stretch. LeBron James set the tone early with a number of ferocious finishes in the lane as the East built up an early lead. The West stormed back, however, thanks to some hot shooting from a very open James Harden, who was facilitated by some beautifully creative passing from Steph Curry.
Curry, the winner of Saturday’s night Three-point Contest, showed fans at the MSG why he’s the most fun player in the league to watch right now. Few players put fans on the edge of their seats quite like Curry. His ball-handling ability is mesmerizing—it’s like he has the basketball on a string. Because of his transcendent shooting ability—he might be the greatest shooter ever, in fact—his greatness as a passer is drastically underrated. A no-look alley-oop pass to Harden was one of the highlights of the first half.
After a 47-point first quarter from the West, it looked as though the East was going to get blown out, but the entry of Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks’ players turned the tide somewhat. Korver’s shooting was a big factor and LeBron’s re-entry into the game helped erode the West’s lead. LeBron elicited a collective gasp from the MSG crowd with a two-handed reverse dunk off a Kyle Lowry lob pass. It was a thing of beauty. The reason we tune into the All-Star Game.
The game was getting close, but all the while Russell Westbrook was racking up the points for the West. His 27 points in the first half broke the All-Star Game record previously held by Glen Rice. Westbrook, one of the NBA’s more polarizing figures, was wickedly entertaining last night. When he wasn’t jacking up threes he was throwing down alley-oops and dunking on fast breaks with an intensity typically reserved for regular season games. All-Star Game or not, Westbrook has one gear, and that’s fifth—he plays angry all the time. On one memorable dunk from last night he got up so high that he hit his head on the underside of the backboard. I wonder if Zach LaVine is starting to get worried.
Mid-way through the fourth quarter, players began playing some defence—dunks weren’t so easy to come by, defenders started putting hands up in the shooter’s face. There was nothing resembling a Tom Thibodeau-like defensive scheme, but the effort level was ratcheted up. With the game tied at 148 a piece, Harden made a three-point that gave the West the lead. Two Chris Paul jump shots later and suddenly it was a seven-point game. A Carmelo Anthony trifecta, followed by a Pau Gasol lay-up, cut the lead to three, but fittingly Westbrook iced the game for the West at the free throw line.
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Ladies and gentleman, the dunk contest is back
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