NEW ORLEANS — The NBA All-Star Game is never exactly a defensive showcase, it’s an exhibition. But this year’s version was an analytic lover’s dream:
Three pointers and dunks. A lot of them.
In the highest-scoring NBA All-Star Game ever, the East beat the West 163-155.
This was the kind of showcase of athleticism the NBA wanted — Blake Griffin is made for a game where there is little defense and rim runs are rewarded and he had 38 points (four points behind of Wilt Chamberlain’s record) and he shot 16-of-18 at the rim. Kevin Durant had 38 points as well on 14-of-27 and hit a couple of threes from about Bourbon Street. That is four years in a row Durant has had more than 30 points in the All-Star Game.
But it ended up being in a losing effort.
The East had been down by 18 in the third quarter but Kyrie Irving sparked the comeback — he had 15 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter while hitting 7-of-9 shots. That performance earned Irving the game MVP honors. Carmelo Anthony added six points and finished with 30.
“We got stops and we made shots,” LeBron James said of the comeback win. “And we didn’t turn the ball over. Very key. We wanted this win. (The West) beat us the last three years and they had a lot of bragging rights, so to be able to come through being down 18 was huge.”
LeBron played 33 minutes and finished with 22 points, including probably the best dunk of the night. But he also made some defensive plays — on the first play of the game the West tried to run “elevator doors” for Stephen Curry (something the Warriors do for him) but LeBron read it, stole it and got out for breakaway dunk. He also broke up a couple alley-oop attempts by anticipating pass and closing fast to knock it down as the guy was throwing it up.
The East went a little cold in the second quarter (let’s not pretend there was good defense) and the West stretched lead out to double digits in the first half, and Durant was key to that as he had 22 points in the first 24. The score was 89-76 West at the half — 89 points in a half was an All-Star Game record.
At the start of the second half there was even less defense, if that was possible. But down 18 the East was the first to really start taking that end of the court a little more seriously. Quickly it became a game.
Defense did end up being key for the East in their comeback — coach Frank Vogel switched up the defense and put Paul George on Chris Paul, and it worked.
“We just wanted to put some length on CP3, so it was me instead of Kyrie,” George said. “We just wanted to disrupt him a little… we wanted to take the ball out of his hands, get it over to (Durant) and LeBron did a good job pressuring him.”
Combine that defense with a little Kyrie Irving show and you have an Eastern Conference win.
More importantly, you had an entertaining show. Which is what the All-Star Game is supposed to be.