The All-Star game is an exhibition first and foremost, and when players are trying harder to entertain the crowd than they are to play good basketball, it’s hard to put too much stock into the results. Still, this year’s All-Star game was one of the most entertaining and competitive games in years, and a few players did put on virtuoso performances while others struggled. Without further ado, let’s take a look at who had the best and worst All-Star Game:
Winner: Kobe Bryant
On Wednesday night, Kobe Bryant shot 8-24 and committed 7 turnovers in a loss to one of the worst NBA teams in decades. On Sunday night, a rested, motivated Bryant torched the best players in the Eastern Conference for 37 points, and was probably the player most responsible for making the game unusually competitive.
Kobe wasn’t interested in trying to pull of behind-the-back passes, intricate Alley-oops, left-handed threes, or any of the other shenanigans that usually take place in the All-Star game; he was taking Dwyane Wade to the post, getting back on defense, and throwing down some of the most vicious dunks he’s had in years.
Bryant was, by his own admission, exhausted by the time the fourth quarter came around, but still had enough in the tank to seal the game by preventing the East from pulling down a key rebound with seconds left to play. Bryant didn’t break Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star scoring record, but he did more than enough to win his fourth All-Star MVP and elevate the level of the game as a whole.
Loser: Dwight Howard
Howard played 21 minutes on Sunday, but you’d be hard-pressed to remember any of them. Howard showed little interest in playing offense or defense, didn’t block a single shot, and half of his four field goal attempts were from beyond the arc. That’s not what you want to see from Dwight Howard.
Winner: Kevin Durant
Durant bounced back from his embarrassing three-point contest with a vengeance. Kobe was the only player to have scored more than Durant, who looked like he was in a groove for most of the game and ultimately closed the game out by scoring seven points in the final 2:18 of play.
Losers: Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan
It’s hard to call KG and Tim Duncan “losers,” but they helped prove that the All-Star game is not the ideal environment for aging big men who make a bigger impact on defense than they do on offense. KG does get some points for being the loudest cheerleader on either bench, even when he was cheering on LeBron James.
Winner: Amar’e Stoudemire and Blake Griffin
The All-Star game WAS made for big men like Stoudemire and Griffin. Griffin dunked all over the court, managed to record five assists, and got the crowd chanting for him in fourth quarter, while Amar’e racked up 29 points with an efficient mix of dunks, jumpers, and drives to the basket.
Losers: Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony
New York rumors have been circling Carmelo and, to a lesser extent, Williams all weekend — both of them seemed distracted, and they combined to shoot 6-17 from the field on Sunday.
Winner: LeBron James
LeBron’s team didn’t get the win, but he recorded the second-triple double in All-Star history and made the game competitive again with a series of awe-inspiring drives to the basket. It’s hard enough to stop LeBron in a game played at a normal pace with normal defensive intensity — with the speed of the game ratcheted up and the defense a bit lax, James is impossible to stop.
Winner: Russell Westbrook
Westbrook’s line wasn’t amazing, but he had some of the most incredible plays of the night — a rim-rocking dunk in transition, a nasty crossover on Dwyane Wade that set up a step-back jumper, and an incredible scoop shot. This year’s All-Star game was one of the best in years, and the play of guys like Westbrook, Durant, and Blake Griffin is a sign that there are more great All-Star games to come when the next generation takes over.