West All-Stars 152, East All-Stars 149 -- Let's keep score in dunks

The East’s furious comeback fell just short as the Western Conference All-Stars won 152-149 Sunday night in Orlando. LeBron James and Kevin Durant both scored 36 points, Dwyane Wade recorded the third triple-double in All-Star history, and Kobe Bryant surpassed Michael Jordan for the most All-Star game points all-time in a contest that saw lots record-setting performances and no defense whatsoever.

This game came down to three pairs of players all battling for the MVP trophy. As is typical for the All-Star Game, no defense was played at all until the game got tight in the fourth quarter, so these players really had free reign to show off their impressive skills on the offensive end. And show off they did starting with the Oklahoma City tandem of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who had 38 points at the break and ended the game with 57 total. Westbrook scored 17 of his 21 in the second quarter. He put down three ferocious dunks and a botched self-alley-oop off the glass turned layup that elicited cheers and laughter from both fans and players alike. Durant came out gunning from the start, hitting 14 of his 25 shots including three treys. His best moment was an off the glass alley-oop from Chris Paul that he threw down one-handed with authority. Durant was awarded the MVP trophy by commissioner Stern after the game, much to the internal chagrin of Kobe Bryant, I’m sure.

Next up was LeBron James and Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat. These two put on a transition show in the first quarter, combining for 19 of the East’s 28 points. The best highlight was a lightly contested give-and-go between the two ending in a thunderous dunk by LeBron that got the crowd at the Amway Center on its feet. Wade ended the game with 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. He tied Dwight Howard for the most boards and was bested only by Chris Paul in assists. LeBron put on a show both at the rim and beyond the arc. James hit a record-tying six three-pointers and had several great dunks, including a two-handed windmill on a breakaway in the first quarter.

Finally, the Los Angeles duo of Blake Griffin and Kobe Bryant were both looking to make an impression from the start. Kobe started out 6-of-7 shooting. It was clear, though he may have denied it when asked, that he was out to break Michael Jordan’s record for most All-Star Game points for a career. Needing only 19 points to break it Kobe dunked his way into the record books halfway through the third quarter. Griffin, on the other hand, was concerned only about punishing the rim with high-flying dunks and missed free throws. Taking lobs from his teammate Chris Paul, Griffin threw it down eight times in the game. His only other basket was a trey as the halftime horn sounded.

Paul played the role of symphony conductor in this game, finding shooters in the half court, throwing backdoor lobs, and hitting guys in transition. He facilitated an offensive performance by the West that was one of the best ever through three quarters. He logged the majority of the point guard minutes for a West squad that also boasted Westbrook, Tony Parker, and the Phoenix Suns’ Steve Nash. Nash logged only five minutes in the game, handing out four assists. He had two great highlights on the night, though. His bounce pass from just inside half court through the East defense to a streaking Westbrook was one of the better passes of the entire game. His other high point was the incredibly perplexed look on his face during the pregame ceremony as unknown band Neverest played an acoustic-boy band version of “Oh, Canada.”

The other performance worth talking about was that of Deron Williams. The Nets’ point guard scored 20 points off the bench, including four hits from beyond the arc. His most crucial play, however, was a bad miss on a three ball that would have given the East its first lead of the game with only eight seconds left to play.

The game seemed all but decided with the West leading by 20 at the eight-minute mark of the fourth. The only question left to answer was who would win the MVP between Kobe and Kevin Durant as other contenders for the crown had submitted by then. Then LeBron James came back onto the floor. First, he connected on a crazy bank shot from just inside the arc. Valley of the Suns couldn’t confirm with sources whether or not James called, “Bank.” He then connected on two step-back threes, the second of which pulled the East to within three points with three minutes to play. After the teams traded points on the next few possessions, Williams got a steal and a layup that brought the East to within one point with 1:40 left.

After a Kobe miss, Wade beat everyone down the floor for the would-be go-ahead layup, but he fumbled the pass and lost the ball out of bounds. After Griffin’s putback dunk off a missed layup by Westbrook put the West back up three, Wade hit two free throws to narrow the gap to one.

Kobe was fouled on the inbounds pass, but converted only one of two at the charity strip. East coach Tom Thibodeau then called timeout and drew up a play for Williams, who had been just as hot as James in the fourth. The play worked like a charm as LeBron drew a double team, allowing Deron to come off a screen and get a wide open look. His miss was tipped around and out to LeBron, who saw Carmelo Anthony in the corner, but James’ pass was picked off by Blake Griffin. Griffin missed his first free throw. With just 1.1 seconds left, the obvious play was for Griffin to miss the second on purpose and risk a full court heave from the East for the win. Instead he made it, and allowed the East to advance the ball to half court for a chance to win or tie the game. James was the clear hot hand, but was instructed by Thibodeau to be the inbounds man on the final play. He found Wade in the near corner for a contested, off-balance attempt that had no chance of going in. Game over. West wins.

This game was an interesting look at the pecking order among the NBA’s elite players. Despite having strong games, both Durant and Paul deferred to Kobe as the East made its run in the fourth. This, as much as all the shots that LeBron and Williams hit, was the reason the East closed out the fourth quarter on a 31-14 run and nearly won the game.

Kobe airballed twice as he was forced into bad fadeaway jumpers by the East’s defense down the stretch. The West’s crunch time lineup of Durant, Paul, Westbrook, Bryant, and Griffin looked stymied late in the fourth. It wasn’t until Durant hit a runner in the lane with two and a half left that any player other than Bryant really asserted himself and attacked the basket.

On the flip side, LeBron put the East squad on his back and probably warranted consideration for the MVP despite his team losing. He was the best player on the floor by far and just his mere presence seemed to make the East team believe its could win despite the huge deficit. Pundits may look at his turnover late as further indication of his struggles in the clutch, but that just simply isn’t the case. Sure, LeBron should have attacked the rim and tried to tie the game up, but to say he blew it is to discount the fact that his team wouldn’t have been in the game at all if not for his fourth quarter scoring.

And 1: Records edition

  • Most points by one team in the first half: West – 88
  • Most combined points in first half: 157
  • Most combined three-point field goals: 26
  • Most points in All-Star games all time: Kobe Bryant – 271

Final random questions

  • Why does Pit Bull wear gloves? He’s either a part-time hit man or a germaphobe.
  • Why does Chris Brown only sing the names of US cities in “International Love Song”?

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Tags: All-star Weekend Blake Griffin Deron Williams Dwyane Wade Kevin Durant Kobe Bryant Lebron James Nba All Star Game Russel Westbrook Steve Nash

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