It was the absolute best of both worlds, for the appreciative NBA fan. The league’s best players put on a compelling offensive display for the first three quarters of Sunday night’s All-Star Game before ratcheting up the defense and compiling a competitive fourth quarter, turning what was once a possible blowout into something that at times resembled a nail-biter. The Eastern squad, clearly more talkative and willing to grind defensively in comparison to their Western counterparts, eventually prevailed by a 163-155 score, in a game that broke several All-Star records for scoring.
Cleveland Cavaliers point man Kyrie Irving was one of the East’s driving forces offensively; he helped spearhead the team’s comeback from an 18-point deficit, finishing with 31 points and 14 assists in what turned out to be an MVP-winning performance. Irving missed just three of his 17 shots, finishing several spectacular wrap-around lay-ins around the hoop as the West succumbed to the East’s increased pressure. New York Knick swingman Carmelo Anthony also finished with 30 points in the win, setting an All-Star record with eight three-pointers on the night, while LeBron James encouraged the action and set an all-around pace with 22 points, seven boards and seven assists.
Though defensive principals were lacking in the first three quarters of the contest, the high scoring affair genuinely felt like more of a result of two rosters’ worth of knockout offensive superstars, rather than dragging defensive takes. There certainly were some matador turns, but few could complain as the three-pointers rained down, and player after player finished possessions with spectacular dunks. The game featured a record 30 three-pointers made, the most combined field goals (135), the most combined assists (a whopping 88), and ultimately the most combined points in an All-Star Game with 318. The previous record holder, the legendary 1987 All-Star Game in Seattle, managed 303 points with an extra overtime period thrown in to help buffer things.
The East managed a hot start, but the West eventually came back and took control of the contest over the second and third quarters by relying on Blake Griffin’s typical derring-do, and an MVP-level all-around game from Kevin Durant. Durant, the leading MVP candidate for the league’s regular season, finished with 38 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists to just one turnover. Griffin ran the floor and hit the glass for a series of spectacular finishes, setting an All-Star record with 19 field goals on his way toward 38 points. Chris Paul mostly ran the show off the bench for the West, and finished with 13 assists in the loss.
The winning squad tipped things in the third quarter by committing to defense and valuing better shots. James acted the part of the leader, Irving the role of the scorer, and the presence of a talking and helping Joakim Noah down the stretch helped steer the East’s fortunes. Noah only finished with eight points and five boards in 20 minutes, but he could be clearly heard directing his teammates to cover and help stay in front of the West’s knockout scorers, and his teammates followed suit.
The result was a 21-point second half advantage for the East, who closed the game on a 10-nil run. Eastern coach Frank Vogel’s squad featured a bench that was seen standing and hooting as the game went back and forth in the fourth quarter, in sharp contrast to a Western bench that seemed quiet and reserved as they watched their teammates roll on. The West wasn’t lacking for scorers to keep up – Durant and Griffin continued their potent ways until the end – but they didn’t feature anywhere near the cohesion and spirit that the East came through with in spades down the stretch.
In the end, the East functioned better as a team. With LeBron James initiating the action, Anthony and Irving finishing plays, and Noah showing guidance and leadership on the other end of the court, the West was left to rely on individual play and the hope that the long Anthony three-pointers or tough Irving lay-ups on the other end wouldn’t fall in. The East may have closed the game on what could be considered a fluke-y 10-0 run in a novelty exhibition game, but they earned this win with teamwork and a commitment to making the most out of each possession on both ends.
That makes for a stellar viewing experience, as we were able to watch the league’s most talented players do what they do best in both the foo-foo and clutch settings, with records falling by the handful. In an All-Star contest that is often marked with lethargic play, missed connections on alley-oops, and too many hangovers to name, it’s a credit to these two rosters that they were able to give us a memorable All-Star Game that will rightfully hold up in the record books.