Dwyane Wade Leads East All-Stars to Thrilling Victory in Front of the Largest Basketball Crowd EverDwyane Wade is the king of the basketball universe for a day and he received his crown in front of 108,713 fans, the largest crowd to ever attend a basketball game. Wade filled up the boxscore with a game-high 28 points and a team-high 11 assists plus six rebounds and five steals as the East All-Stars outlasted the West All-Stars 141-139 in Cowboys Stadium. Wade shot 12-16 from the field and scored at least eight points in each of the final three quarters; even though he only scored two points in the first quarter his one basket provided some foreshadowing of the dazzling display that Wade was about to unleash: he tossed the ball high off of the backboard, muscled defender Steve Nash out of the way like a big brother bullying his little brother while playing on a Nerf hoop and then slammed the ball home with authority.
LeBron James was in the hunt for MVP honors until he fizzled out a bit with four points on 2-7 shooting in the fourth quarter but he still finished with 25 points, six assists, five rebounds and four steals. He retained the unique distinction of being the career leader in All-Star game scoring average without ever topping a single All-Star game in points. Texas native Chris Bosh had 23 points and a game-high tying 10 rebounds. Dwight Howard (17 points, five rebounds) and Joe Johnson (10 points) were the only other double figure scorers for the East.
Despite his denials in the postgame press conference, Carmelo Anthony certainly seemed determined to shoot his way to the MVP award, firing up 11 attempts in the first quarter en route to 13 points, but despite his early offensive fireworks the East led 37-34. Anthony ended up with a team-high 27 points and a game-high tying 10 rebounds. Hometown favorite Dirk Nowitzki added 22 points, while his Dallas teammate Jason Kidd--a late replacement for the injured Kobe Bryant--played just 6:11 and was the only participant who did not score a point. The balanced West squad had seven players score in double figures; Chauncey Billups did not have much impact in the first three quarters but scored 14 of his 17 points in the closing stanza, including five points in the final 2:03 when there were two ties and two lead changes. Much like Jerry West put up modest numbers (13 points, six rebounds, five assists) but seized the 1972 All-Star MVP by hitting a game-winning buzzer beater, it appeared that "Mr. Big Shot" might be positioning himself to steal the show from Wade, James, Anthony and Nowitzki. Ultimately, the West's late rally fell just short, in no small part due to a pair of gaffes by Deron Williams: first Williams turned the ball over with the score tied and less than 18 seconds remaining and then he fouled Wade with the East in the bonus. Wade hit both free throws, Nowitzki countered with a pair of free throws and then Bosh provided the game's final points with two free throws after Billups committed a loose ball foul at the five second mark. Anthony's game-winning three point attempt missed the mark as time expired.
This game had a strange rhythm to it, as players and fans alike seemed to need some time to adjust to the oversized setting and hyped up environment. Surprisingly, shooting percentages did not suffer despite the challenge of shooting against a background that differs dramatically from those that are usually found in NBA arenas. I watched the game from my perch in press box one--"high above courtside" as the late, great Johnny Most would say, though the press box one denizens were likely higher above courtside than Most ever was. The players were clearly visible--but looked quite small--and most press box inhabitants found their eyes inexorably drawn to the massive video board. In the press box the stadium sound was largely muted, so the effect was kind of like watching the game on the world's biggest television screen with little audio: the images were stunning and the replays were plentiful but a lot of the normal feel/vibe of attending a live event was absent. I'm sure that the experience was different for those who were on the other side of the press box windows and thus heard the game's sounds and the crowd's reactions at full volume; during the extended halftime show I wandered down from the press box to soak things in from courtside (or as close to courtside as I could get, as the floor level was understandably quite congested with fans and media members alike trying to get a closer look/listen). The fans certainly seemed to be quite engaged and excited.
The East appeared to have matters pretty well in hand with a 135-126 lead at the 4:17 mark of the fourth quarter; a substantial portion of the crowd headed for the exits while many media members left the press box to go to to the press conference rooms on the floor level. Then the East missed some shots, Billups got hot, the margin tightened and the dramatic conclusion played out in front of a lot of empty seats. Overall, though, this All-Star Game has to be considered a big success for the NBA: the league set an attendance record and generated a lot of interest in a game that turned out to be entertaining and concluded with a hard fought finish.
East Coach Stan Van Gundy was the last person to be interviewed in the main postgame press conference room; he looked at the assembled media crowd--which had just thinned out markedly after James finished his press conference--and quipped, "You can't seriously have any questions for a coach in an All-Star Game." ESPN's John Hollinger did not ask about the game but rather sought out Van Gundy's reaction to the nightmare scenario possibly facing NBA coaches: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade joining forces next summer. Van Gundy said, "You know, I don't think you needed to see tonight to understand that that would scare any of us in this league. Incredible talents, both of them, obviously." Despite all of the feverish speculation about James leaving Cleveland to play in New York or New Jersey, neither of those scenarios makes any sense; James understands that his resume will not be complete unless he wins an NBA title--10 or 15 years from now he does not want to be the butt of jokes on TNT a la Charles Barkley (with all due respect to the ring-less Round Mound of Rebound) and James is smart enough to realize that the New York and New Jersey franchises are not built to win championships. However, if James and Wade work out a way to play for the same team as a package deal then that team instantly becomes very formidable, assuming that the rest of the roster is not completely gutted to pay the two superstars. The only way that I see James leaving Cleveland is if the Cavaliers fall short of winning the 2010 title and he is able to partner with Wade in the aforementioned manner.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:05 AM