Three Things to Know from All-Star weekend: The new format worked, the dunk judging did not

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CHICAGO — Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, or, in this case, every weekend. Here are three things to know out of All-Star weekend. (After today, three things will be off this week until games return.)

1) Team LeBron got the All-Star Game victory, but the real winner was the new format. For the past few years (maybe going on a decade), the actual NBA All-Star Game was a bland product. A dud. Players wanted to avoid injury, and there was very little real effort or competition (maybe in the final minutes). It was unwatchable. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the league’s office was looking for a way to change that dynamic.

The found it. The format changes experimented with this year — starting each quarter at 0-0 with money for charities on the line, then the target point ending — were the biggest winners of the 2020 All-Star Game.

“It was dope,” Jimmy Butler said. “Damn sure got to compete at the end. It’s still fun to go out there and be known as one of the best players in the world in this league. Hopefully, it stays like that.”

In the fourth quarter, the very best players in the world were going at each other hard. Joel Embiid tried to take a charge. Kyle Lowry did take a charge on Kawhi Leonard. Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry were barking at the officials over calls. Coaches were calling for reviews.

Giannis Antetokounmpo blocked LeBron. Twice.

And it was close. Under the new Elam system the final point target was 157, and this game was tied as late as 152-152. In the end, it became next basket wins — and Davis got that basket… a free throw. That was a little disappointing.

Kawhi Leonard, who finished the night with 30 points, shooting 8-of-14 from three, walked off with the just-named Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP award.

This was the best All-Star game in recent memory. You can bet the format will be back next year in Indianapolis.

2) Aaron Gordon got robbed at the dunk contest. Again. The last great dunk contest took place in 2016, when Gordon controversially lost in a dunk-off to Zach LaVine.

This Saturday was another epic contest, another dunk-off, — and Gordon lost again, this time despite dunking over 7’5″ Tacko Fall for the final dunk of the night.

“Jumping over somebody 7’5″ [note: without shoes] and dunking is no easy feat,” Gordon said, stating the obvious. “What did I get, like a 47? Come on, man. What are we doing?”

That is correct, Gordon got a 47 out of 50 for that dunk and the crowd in the United Center was not happy with the judges. The judges, for their part, apparently were conspiring to send the dunk-off to a third round but screwed it up (Dwyane Wade favoring his Heat player?).

My thoughts on this Dunk Contest are a bit nuanced, and I don’t have an issue with Derrick Jones Jr. winning. If, after the four scheduled dunks, you asked me to pick a winner, I would have gone with Jones. Yes, I realize Gordon got four 50s on those dunks, a perfect score, but I think he got some of that on reputation and Jones was better.

However, there is no way the dunk over Fall was a 47. That should have broken the tie and given Gordon the win. He was robbed on that dunk.

At least we got a great show.

3) It was a weekend of Kobe Bryant tributes. Memories of Kobe and his legacy seemed to be everywhere all weekend. Players were talking about him, and pictures of him were everywhere around the city.

The biggest honor is that the All-Star Game MVP is now named after him.

Then at Sunday’s All-Star game, Magic Johnson with words and Jennifer Hudson in song gave a beautiful tribute to Kobe.

As it did with the new rules and everything all weekend long — except maybe the dunk contest judging — the NBA got it right.