From John Wall’s mascot-grabbed-ball-pumped-two-hand-reverse-dunk to the abundance of musical brilliance fit to honour the host city of New Orleans, the 2014 All Star Weekend presented several memorable moments to write back home about. But by the time the fun-filled weekend was over, it left a legacy that could be described in a single, mono-syllable word. Points.
Points, as in the very essence of what a game of basketball is about. Scoring points, and outscoring the opponent. Defensive specialists past and present – from 80th birthday boy Bill Russell or Defensive Player of the Year candidate Roy Hibbert – must have watched in horror as for the majority of the night, the All Star Game became the greatest celebration of offense that it has ever seen in its 63 year history. The West and the East combined to score 318 points together, shattering the previous combined total of 303 from 1987. The East, who came back from 18 down to win the game, set an All Star record with 163 points.
The West scored a record 89 points in the first half and seemed to be heading to a comfortable win, but a valiant performance by All Star MVP Kyrie Irving (31 points and 14 assists) and Carmelo Anthony (30 points – including ASG record eight threes) helped them come back and shock the favoured (and bigger) Western Conference. Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin scored 38 points each and came close to matching Wilt Chamberlain’s All Time ASG scoring record of 42. The two teams combined to attempt a record 100 threes!
But, as it always is the case in these games, the winner was eventually decided by the extra effort on the defensive end. The East closed the third quarter with an 18-3 run to come back into the game. After the West scored 44, 45, and 37 points in the first three quarters, the East ‘held’ them (I use the term ‘held’ very loosely here) to 29 in the final period to win 163-155. Although the East started in a strange lineup of two guards and three small forwards, their finishing five made the difference: Irving, George, LeBron, Anthony, and – instead of the recovering Dwyane Wade – Joakim Noah. Noah (8-5-5) may not go home with any accolades, but he provided East with the size and defensive intensity it needed in the fourth quarter stretch to turn the game around.
Other big scorers in this celebration of points were LeBron (22) and George (18). For the West, Griffin was particularly impressive as he scored 18 points on 9-9 shooting (all dunks) in the first quarter alone. Griffin and LeBron combined for enough great dunks to make most of the Slam Dunk contestants from the night before blush.
The Slam Dunk contest felt like anything but a contest at the beginning on Saturday night. The freestyle round lacked any hype and had few show-stopping dunks. The East dominated the event though, winning the freestyle round and all the East participants won their battle rounds, too. Wall was rightly named the Dunker of the night for his memorable dunk that some claimed ‘brought the dunk contest back’. Ben McLemore’s dunk over “Shaqlemore” was pretty hilarious and impressive, too. Terrance Ross used Drake and Harrison Barnes used a video game tracking thing. Paul George had a couple of nice dunks. But mostly, the contest was ho-hum, where great dunkers were held back by a confusing structure.
Spurs’ Marco Belinelli (West) had a couple of horrendous shooting moments but still peaked at the right moment to defeat Bradley Beal (East) and win the Three-Point shootout in an extra final round.
The Skills Challenge was a team/pairs competition, which was won by the West side pair of Damian Lillard and Trey Burke. It was perhaps the closest competition ever, as Lillard/Burke edged the team of rookies Victor Oladipo and Michael Carter-Williams by just a tenth of a second in the final.
The very first major event at the All Star Weekend was the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, which also turned into – surprise, surprise – an offensive showcase. Andre Drummond had a dominant night with 30 points and 25 rebounds, including many points by simply grabbing the boards on the offensive end, to lead ‘Team Hill’ to victory and the MVP award. Team Hill beat team Webber 142-136, but the most interesting moment of the game came when Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dion Waiters decided to play an in-game one-on-one game and a three-point competition between each other. Waiters ended up with 31 points and Hardaway added a game-high 36.
Damian Lillard – who attempted to make the weekend his own by taking part in five major All Star events – ended with 13 points for the winning team in the Rising Stars Challenge, won the Skills Challenge, but didn’t perform too well in the Three-Points shootout or the Dunk Contest. He had nine points in less than nine minutes in the All Star Game on Sunday night.
Now, the NBA’s best teams and players must turn their attention to the final two months of the season, the stretch that will really separate the men from the boys. And they’ll have to shrug off that All Star mentality a little: all those points are only going to matter if they can hold the opponents back from scoring, too. The West learned it the hard way in the All Star Game. And if that exhibition game could be a sample of the things to come, maybe a defensive-minded team from the ‘weaker’ Eastern Conference can turn on the screws by the time the NBA Finals roll around.