Toronto — Another All-Star Weekend is in the books and the stars shined brightly, especially Kobe Bryant, in his final appearances in the midseason exhibition.
From the Slam Dunk Contest to the 3-Point Challenge and the Skills Challenge to Sunday’s All-Star Game, the NBA delivered on its annual charge to entertain at Air Canada Centre, in its first foray outside the United States. Toronto delivered — well, except for the frigid temps.
Here are The Monday Drive’s 10 observations from All-Star Weekend:
1. The NBA is doing Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour the right way. It would be understandable if he got tired of all the tributes and gifts from teams, but he was a true ambassador for the game and handled the weekend with grace and class. He had 10 points but with his diminished game, it’s hard to keep up with the young horses. There probably won’t be an adieu of that magnitude until LeBron James decides to retire.
2. The lack of defense in the All-Star Game is making it almost unwatchable. The Air Canada Centre was stale and quiet for much of the game, because of the lack of defense. The West’s 196 points was a record for one team and the total of 369 was also a record. The dunks and up-and-down track meet is better when there are a few stops — not just missed shots — in between.
3. This year’s Slam Dunk Contest was one of the best in the past 20 years. Although it didn’t have the marquee names of some of the classic competitions, what it did have was creativity and flair. In the final round between defending champ Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon, there was intrigue, because each tried to raise the bar and attempt something innovative. LaVine prevailed again, but the contest has more buzz than in the past decade.
4. The small tweak of adding a “Money Ball” rack was a nice addition to the 3-Point Challenge. It provided a chance to get a boost, as each competitor chose from one of the five stations to add the bonus balls. The final between Klay Thompson and Steph Curry was what most wanted to see and it didn’t disappoint, with Thompson dethroning the champ on the final few shots — from the Money Ball rack.
5. It was a good All-Star Weekend for Pistons center Andre Drummond. He wasn’t a factor in the dunk contest and after watching LaVine and Gordon, admitted he won’t enter again. Drummond’s 16 points and 13 rebounds in Sunday’s game fit in with what he’s done all season — just get double-doubles. The up-and-down style of the game just isn’t tailored for big men, so Drummond just had to focus on boards and the occasional dunk.
6. Paul George is on the verge of a big breakout. He’s already been a fringe superstar, but with his 41 points Sunday, he garnered a few votes for All-Star MVP. Russell Westbrook won the award for the second straight year, but if George can get more talent around him in Indiana, the Pacers could be on the road to being a serious contender in the East.
7. The Skills Challenge wasn’t as ho-hum as many expected. Karl-Anthony Towns topped Isaiah Thomas in the final round, winning one for the big men, who were split off from the guards. It’s not the crown jewel of the Saturday events, but it was interesting to watch and see how the game is evolving that centers can dribble, pass and shoot along with the smaller guys.
8. As Thursday’s trade deadline nears, the rumor mill is starting to spin again, with the most interesting one having Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love on the move. The Atlanta Hawks are rumored to be ready to move on from Al Horford, Jeff Teague and some of their core that had the best record in the East last year. The players seemed unconcerned, but one or two moves could shift the balance of power in the Eastern Conference.
9. The Super Bowl has Coldplay, Bruno Mars and Beyonce as the halftime entertainment. The NBA has Sting. Yeah, exactly. The younger crowd might have been wondering who the old guy was who remade Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You” instead of the innovator. It was a rare swing-and-miss on a weekend where the NBA seemed to get almost everything else right.
10. Toronto was a wonderful host for the All-Star Game, but the frigid temperatures put a damper on getting out to see what the city has to offer. On Saturday, it was below zero and the fans leaving the Saturday events were advised to stay indoors if possible. That’s part of the danger of not having the big events in warm-weather locales. Next year’s game is in Charlotte, so it likely won’t be a concern.