Toronto Puts On An All-Star Weekend to Remember

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Basketball’s best and brightest spent this past weekend north of the 49th parallel, as a frigid Toronto played host to the 65th NBA All Star Game, and all the festivities that come with it. The league’s mid-season showpiece was the first held outside of the United States and it was a resounding success. The West beat the East, with a record breaking score of 196-173—they’ve won 5 of the past 6 contests—as Russell Westbrook claimed his second-straight All-Star Game MVP award and Kobe Bryant made his 18th, and final, All-Star Game appearance.

The Young Guns Shine

All-Star weekend kicked off with the always-amusing celebrity game. This year’s incarnation featured a Canada vs. USA format, with Kevin Hart (a multiple MVP in previous years) coaching Team USA and Drake—who featured prominently throughout the weekend (although, curiously, not in a musical capacity) coaching the Canucks. Canada ran out eventual winners, thanks to Arcade Fire’s front man, Win Butler, who took home MVP honours.

In the headline event of the night—the Rising Stars Challenge—The USA avenged last year’s defeat to the world team, coming out on top, 157-154. Zach LaVine, who would play a prominent role all weekend, poured in 30 points for the Americans and was crowned MVP. His Minnesota Timberwolves teammate, and Toronto native Andrew Wiggins, finished with 29 points, leading his group of international young stars. The New York Knicks’ rookie sensation, Kristaps Porzingis also shone bright, scoring 30 points.

A Saturday Night to Remember

Everyone’s favourite night of All-Star weekend did not disappoint, as fans in Toronto were treated to a wonderful exhibition of slick shooting and thunderous dunks. The night began with a modified version of the Skills Competition—point guards faced off against one another on one side of the bracket, while traditional big-men took part in the event for the first time on the other. Isaiah Thomas made the final for the guards and he faced off against T-Wolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns. In a shocking upset Towns beat Thomas, draining the course-ending three-pointer, which set off jubilant celebrations from his fellow big-men and a wry smirk from Thomas.

The Skills Competition was followed by what has become many fans’ favourite event of the night—the Three-Point Contest. Steph Curry, the greatest shooter on the planet, was looking to defend his title from 2015, but he was up against stiff competition, notably in the form of his Warriors teammate Klay Thompson. The field, as it was last year, was stacked and in the first round an extra shoot-off was required to separate Devin Booker, James Harden and J.J. Redick, who all finished with 20 points. Booker prevailed. In the final round it came down to the Splash Brothers. Curry put up a very competitive 23 points, but Thompson cruised past that total, scoring 27. Curry, Thompson’s backcourt partner, couldn’t help but smile.

 

The marquee event of the night, the Slam Dunk Contest, quickly followed Thompson’s triumph. And it was a contest for the ages. Back to defend his 2015 title was the T-Wolves’ Zach LaVine, a player who seems to walk on air. But he had stiff competition this year in the form of the Orlando Magic’s Aaron Gordon. With Will Barton and Andre Drummond, the contest’s other two participants, quickly dispatched, it came down to a dunk-off between LaVine and Gordon—and an epic dunk-off it was. Both men put up a succession of 50-point slams, with the highlights being LaVine’s dunk from the free-throw line whilst putting the ball under his legs and Gordon’s unfathomably ridiculous leap over the Magic’s mascot—a mascot on a hover-board no less. Gordon seemed to take a seat in mid-air as his put the ball under his legs and threw it through the hoop. There are no words to do it justice.
 

LaVine reclaimed his title, somewhat controversially given Gordon’s performance, but both men, and the competition, end up as winners in the eyes of hoops fans.

A Record Breaking All-Star Game

The weekend’s festivities were capped off with the All-Star Game itself; an all-offense, no-defense, display of cross-overs, 3-on-1 fast breaks and thunderous alley-oops. Records were toppled, as the West came agonizingly close to scoring 200 points, while the East also put up a massive total. Russell Westbrook led the West with 31 points, taking home another All-Star Game MVP, while Pacers forward Paul George, who missed last year’s game because of injury, was the game’s top-scorer with 41 points.

George came within a single point of breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game scoring record and, late on, the West seem to have been acutely aware of that fact. The likes of Kevin Durant and Draymond Green finally decided to play some defense of George, doubling him off the ball and tightly guarding him one-on-one in the final seconds. Everyone found it amusing, except, perhaps, George. Wilt’s record remains intact for another year.

But while the young super-stars of the league filled up the box score, the night truly belonged to Kobe Bean Bryant. The Black Mamba was playing in his final All-Star Game and the future Hall-of-Famer relished the occasion. The NBA put on a classy video tribute before the tip-off and the West’s coach, Gregg Popovich, took Bryant out with a minute left so he could receive a standing ovation from the crowd and hugs from his fellow professionals. Bryant once torched the Toronto Raptors to the tune of 81-points, but on Sunday night, one of the greatest players to have ever played the game, was the most popular man in the city.

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