Kurt Helin

Paul George punctuates comeback with 41 in All-Star Game

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TORONTO (AP) — So many of Paul George‘s All-Star teammates and opponents were on the floor 18 months ago, the night his career was put in peril by a gruesome leg injury in a scrimmage with USA Basketball.

It has been a long, difficult road back to the rising star he was before a bone in his right leg popped through his skin on that August night in Las Vegas. Surrounded by so many of those elite faces again in Toronto on Sunday night, George has never looked more like the player that has made the Indiana Pacers relevant again. Truth be told, he looked even better.

George led all players with 41 points and made nine 3-pointers in the East’s 196-173 loss to West, finishing one basket shy of breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s single-game All-Star scoring record.

“For me to be here just being back as an All-Star was special. But to be able to put on a show and have fun and enjoy this moment, get back to playing how I play pre-injury is special,” George said. “I’ve just been blessed. I’m very thankful and very grateful.”

Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook won the MVP award with 31 points in the victory, but it was George who stood out above all of the game’s best players, just like he did before his right leg awkwardly hit the basketball stanchion in that USA scrimmage, bringing tears to his teammates’ eyes.

“I had a hard-fought summer, hard-fought rehab year,” George said. “It was just a very upward climb. It took every day and really every moment of rehab to get through it. There were a lot of days where I felt like I was down and out, but just stayed with it.”

Thanks to George’s emergence as one of the NBA’s bright young stars, the Pacers had climbed up the Eastern Conference ladder to assert themselves as legitimate challengers. George had a great chance to be in Team USA’s plans for the London Olympics, but his leg snapped grotesquely and had many, including George himself, wondering if he would ever play again.

He missed all but six games last season, but his ability to return even for the end of the season was a shock in and of itself. Playing in those games gave him a chance to get a little bit of confidence back, to believe that returning to basketball’s highest level was possible, and he took off like a rocket at the start of this season.

While he was injured, George worked on two of his game’s weaknesses – ball-handling and perimeter shooting. He returned this season a more well-rounded player and averaged 29.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the first month of the season. Those numbers have dipped expectedly as the season has worn on, but George has his swagger back.

“He’s back,” Pelicans star Anthony Davis said. “The way he shoots the ball, the way he attacks the rim, his game is very unique. Basically he was showing guys tonight that he’s back to rare form.”

On a night where all eyes started on Lakers star Kobe Bryant in his 18th and final All-Star game, they couldn’t help but drift on to George as the shots kept falling and the ball kept finding him.

Both teams broke the previous record for points in a game, with the West eclipsing the previous mark with eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Defense wasn’t an afterthought, it was never even considered – except in the final 30 seconds.

Sitting on 41 points, George had the ball on the right wing, needing one bucket to surpass Chamberlain’s mark set in 1962. That’s when Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green got right in George’s face, hounding him all over the court in the only possession of defense played the entire game.

“We don’t want any records like that broken on us,” Green said with a chuckle. “Just trying to contest the shot.”

Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter: http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

Rumor: Timberwolves making Ricky Rubio available at trade deadline

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If you’re a point guard who doesn’t shoot well, you better do some other things exceedingly well if you’re going to stick in the NBA.

Enter Ricky Rubio. Opposing teams will dare him to shoot — better him than Andrew Wiggins or Karl-Anthony Towns — but Rubio brings exceptional vision, passing, and fantastic defense to the table.

A few teams could use a guy like that — hello New York — and Rubio is available at the trade deadline for the right price, reports Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

Incumbent Ricky Rubio is readily available and the feeling is that the Spanish guard could be moved prior to Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.

So, the Knicks?

Phil Jackson is in the market for a point guard but it’s hard to envision the Knicks having the assets to acquire the 25-year-old Rubio, whose season average in points (9.7), assists (8.6) and minutes (30.3) are down this year.

Because Rubio is young like the rest of the Timberwolves core, and is locked up for three seasons after this one on a contract that becomes very reasonable as the salary cap spikes, it’s going to take a heck of an offer to pry him out of Minnesota. It also is believed by most around the league that the Timberwolves will replace coach Sam Mitchell this summer, and whomever the new coach ends up being may want to have some input who the point guard of the team should be.

The problems with the Knicks pulling the trigger on any deal to upgrade at the point is the only players on their roster other teams want are the ones the Knicks will not move. Ty Lawson may be the exception to that. However, it may be this summer before Jose Calderon is sent to the bench.

 

 

In night of a million alley-oops, Anthony Davis’ finish may have been best (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — The All-Star Game ended up having an advanced stat guru’s perfect shot selection distribution: 139 threes, 109 shots at the rim, just 38 shots from the midrange.

I don’t know how many of those 109 shots at the rim were alley-oops, but if you said half I wouldn’t be shocked. It seemed like there was more than one a minute.

The best finish of the night went to Anthony Davis, mostly because while Chris Paul will get the assist on this one (he had 16 on the night), that pass is where maybe one guy on the planet could get it and finish it. That ball has no business being dunked. Davis finished it with authority.

Russell Westbrook dances his way to back-to-back All-Star MVP awards

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TORONTO — Russell Westbrook came into this All-Star Game dancing.

Westbrook is known for his intensity and a scowl on the court, seeing him smile during a regular season game is like seeing a unicorn. Sunday night he walked onto the All-Star stage in Toronto and danced his way past Drake with a big smile on his face.

“I just wanted to go out there and enjoy my time, dance a little bit, smile,” Westbrook said. “I know a lot of people don’t see me smile a lot during the season, so I like to smile a little bit during the All-Star have fun.”

He kept smiling all-night long on his way to 31 points, eight rebounds, five assists, all of which earned him back-to-back All-Star Game MVP Awards.

Westbrook is the first back-to-back All-Star Game MVP since Hall of Famer Bob Pettit in 1958-59.

“Any time you can be able to be in the history books, it always means something to me, man,” Westbrook said. “I’m just thankful to be able to play the game of basketball and be in a game like this is something that, like I said before, I never take for granted.”

Westbrook did attack the rim and had the kind of monster dunks we expect from him, but he went Stephen Curry for a night, too — he took 17 threes. Westbrook was just going hard in a game that often lacked that intensity.

“Yeah, man, that’s the only way I know how to go,” Westbrook said.

This award is the latest step in a long road back Westbrook — he had multiple knee surgeries for injuries that doomed Thunder playoff runs just a few years back. Westbrook is arguably the most explosive player in the league, large parts of his game are based on that athleticism, and the injuries made some wonder if he could continue in that style. Despite the surgeries, he never lost that explosiveness — and his game kept growing and evolving.

“I don’t believe he had surgery, personally,” LeBron James said with a laugh. “It was just like, you know what, I’m just going to take a little bit of time off. No, but it’s been incredible, man. Just like you said, to have three knee surgeries and he hasn’t really lost — he hasn’t lost. He’s actually gained a step or two or three. He’s one of the most athletic guys that our league has seen and obviously in today’s game as well. He’s a phenomenal talent. You don’t come across these guys that often and in our sport.”

He’s right, we don’t get to see guys like Westbrook often. Which is why it is so much fun to watch him play.

And to see him smile while he does it occasionally.

Kobe Bryant celebrated, Russell Westbrook scores big in defense-free West All-Star victory

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TORONTO — More than a celebration of the NBA, this year’s All-Star Game was a celebration of Kobe Bryant — there were two Kobe tribute videos and two standing ovations before the All-Star game even tipped off Sunday. Kobe soaked it all in, spoke graciously, clearly enjoyed his time on the court, and left it with a minute to go to chants of “Ko-be, Ko-be.”

“I think it’s the stories of when they first came into the league, and they were matching up against me, and just kind of the little things that — an elbow here or a steal here, and then wanting to earn my respect at an early age, right?” Kobe said of what he will take away from the weekend. “Coming into the league, playing against me, wanting to prove to me that they were as competitive. When I hear those kind of stories, man, that makes me feel real good.”

In between those Kobe bookends, it was a defense-free game — even by All-Star Game standards — that the West went on to win 196-173. The teams combined to take 139 threes. That’s not a typo, 139. The teams combined to shoot 55 percent.

Usually there is a defensive push in the fourth as the teams try to win, but with the West comfortably in front the only defense was from the West trying to keep Paul George, who scored 41 and was one-point short of Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time All-Star record. George impressed in his return to All-Star competition.

“To come back and play at that level athletically, it just stuns me every time I see him out there,” Gregg Popovich said of George, thinking back on George’s nasty injury for Team USA a couple season’s ago.

Russell Westbrook won a back-to-back All-Star Game MVP, scoring 31 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out five assists. He’s the first back-to-back winner of the MVP since Bob Pettit in 1958-59.

The game’s trends started in the first half,  where the teams took the usually low bar for defense in an All-Star Game to a new low. At halftime the score was 92-90 with the West ahead — an All-Star record for most total points in the first half, beating the old record by 17 points — and the teams combined to shoot 57.3 percent in the half. George led all scorers with 16 in the first half, Kawhi Leonard led the West with 13.

The second half started with Stephen Curry taking ridiculously deep threes — which might happen in a regular game. Then Russell Westbrook started launching threes (he took 17 in the games). Soon everyone was — DeMarcus Cousins even drained a three on a play Popovich said Cousins designed for himself.

Through it all the West expanded their lead to nine entering the fourth. Starting the fourth they quickly grew that lead, and with that the game became about records.

That included LeBron James (13 points) passing Kobe for the all-time lead in All-Star Game points scored (LeBron has 281, Kobe 280).

Kyle Lowry had 14 points and DeMar DeRozan scored 18 for the host Raptors.