Now, that was an All-Star Game. Well, sort of.
NBA All-Star weekend had its high points and low points — mostly high — in a wondrous weekend of basketball celebration in Los Angeles.
The culmination was Sunday’s All-Star Game, which Team LeBron won, 148-145, at Staples Center. It’s a far cry from the 192-182 defensive debacle from 2017, which led to an overhaul of the All-Star system.
First was dismantling of the conference structure in the game, allowing the top two leading vote-getters to pick their teams — playground style, though the next improvement will be allowing the picks to be televised — resulting in some interesting rosters, with LeBron James’ starting lineup including Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis.
That’s a scary lineup in itself, which would have been more daunting if DeMarcus Cousins hadn’t been injured.
The game seemed more free-flowing, with actual defense being played noticeably, including the final stamp on the game, a ferocious corner trap with James and Durant, forcing Steph Curry to dribble around and not get a potential tying shot up in the final second.
Defense, a novel concept.
Sure, there were still some uncontested dunks and drives down the lane, but for the most part, it was good to watch and see the level of skill of the league’s elite players, without worrying whether the winning score might hit 200.
Maybe the winning share of $100,000 for each player had something to do with it as well, but having a game come down to the final seconds and seeing defense decide the game was refreshing.
The Monday Drive takes a look at some other notable takeaways from All-Star weekend:
- Pistons center Andre Drummond, in his second All-Star appearance, acquitted himself well, with an impressive showing: 14 points, on 7-of-7 shooting, in 18 minutes. He mostly stayed around the rim and got dunks and easy shots in the paint.
- The Slam-Dunk Contest was good, but not outstanding. Donovan Mitchell was a deserving winner, but it’s just so hard for big men to win it. The Cavs’ Larry Nance Jr. was very, very good, but it’s hard to judge the 6-foot-9 Nance against a 6-3 Mitchell equally.
- The judging in the dunk contest continues to be vexing. When a dunk earns a 10, there’s nothing higher. There’s no telling what some of the creative dunkers will come up with, so much like the 2016 contest — one of the best ever — unless there are some unbelievable things, the perfect-10’s just keep flowing and make it harder to find the superlative.
- The 3-Point Contest was something of a letdown, until Devin Booker came up with a record effort in the final. Former Piston Tobias Harris was one of the finalists, showing his improvement from beyond the arc, but fell short. Klay Thompson was good, but most of the other shooters were disappointments, not able to get hot until Booker’s fantastic finish.
- Another former Piston, Spencer Dinwiddie, took the Skills Challenge on Saturday, beating out the Bulls’ Lauri Markkanen in the final. Drummond lost to Markannen in the first round, after having trouble getting the precision pass to go through the barrier. The guards finally won after years of the big men dominating the event.
- The names Dinwiddie, Booker and Mitchell all will resonate with Pistons fans, who have groused about giving up on Dinwiddie, especially given their struggles at point guard at times this season. Booker and Mitchell are familiar names in the complaints about drafting woes in recent years.
- Some of the 3-pointers in the All-Star Game were just beyond belief. There are the normal Curry 3-point tries, which are somewhat expected, but a few by Damian Lillard were out at the logo near halfcourt. There is no Harlem Globetrotters 4-pointer out there, so it’s just another low-percentage shot.
- Where do traditional big men like Drummond fit in the All-Star game anymore? All the other bigs in the game shot 3-pointers — Drummond would have also, if given the opportunity — but the post-ups have all but vanished and even Joel Embiid, at 7-foot-1, is taking and making threes.
- Televise the draft. Seriously. Although it seems laughable to have the players not know their teams until just before the game, it’s not as if they are drawing up plays and having substantive practices anyway. Rumors were that Durant was the first pick and Al Horford or LaMarcus Aldridge was last. People want to know. Well, most of us.
- Fergie’s rendition of the national anthem was … odd. I’m not against alternative versions, but somewhere around 10 seconds in, it just felt uncomfortable. Maybe it was the sultry, jazz vibe, while thinking of soldiers having to defend the country. When in Los Angeles, there are going to be some liberties taken. That was certainly one.