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Monday, February 27, 2012

Durant Shoots His Way to MVP Honors, Bryant Surpasses Jordan on All-Star Career Scoring List

Kevin Durant played the most minutes, took the most shots and poured in 36 points to earn his first All-Star Game MVP as his West squad cruised to a 21 point lead but had to survive a late rally before defeating the East 152-149. Durant shot a very efficient 14-25 from the field--including 3-8 from three point range--and he also contributed seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. Durant made his intentions obvious right from the start--scoring 13 first quarter points on 5-9 field goal shooting while playing all 12 minutes--and after the game he mentioned that he had spoken with West Coach Scott Brooks (who of course coaches Durant for the Oklahoma City Thunder) about his desire to play a lot of minutes; Durant played 37:23, nearly three minutes more than the playing time of any other player, with second place honors going to the seemingly ageless and indefatigable Kobe Bryant. Bryant also came out with both barrels blazing, scoring 11 first quarter points on 5-6 field goal shooting. He finished with 27 points on 9-17 field goal shooting and along the way he broke Michael Jordan's NBA career All-Star scoring record of 262 points; Bryant has now scored 271 points in All-Star competition, second on the all-time ABA-NBA All-Star scoring list behind Julius Erving, who scored 321 points in 16 All-Star games (five ABA, 11 NBA). Bryant is a 14-time All-Star but he really has only played in 12 full All-Star Games: he missed the 2010 contest due to injury and an injury limited him to a token three minute appearance in the 2008 contest. Bryant also lost a potential All-Star Game appearance to the 1999 lockout. LeBron James led the East with 36 points on 15-23 field goal shooting, including an incredible second half run when he made nine straight shots. James also had seven assists and six rebounds. James' Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade joined James (2011) and Michael Jordan (1997) as just the third player to post an All-Star Game triple double (24 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists).

Wade fouled Bryant in the game's strangest play--and the play that could potentially have the most impact (no pun intended): neither team offered much defensive resistance until the closing minutes of the fourth quarter but when Bryant blew by Wade with a spin move on the left block early in the third quarter Wade grabbed Bryant around the head and whacked Bryant in the face hard enough to draw some blood from Bryant's nose. The TNT announcers joked about how the play seemed to be out of the context of the game's relaxed vibe but Wade really could have been called for a flagrant foul for making unnecessary contact above the shoulder and I will not be surprised if it turns out that Bryant has a broken nose. Bryant did not visibly react to the injury and he stayed in the game, though the trainer did have to do some treatment to stop the bleeding. You can bet that if Wade had taken a similar shot to the face the NBA would have had to airlift him to an emergency trauma center (remember, Wade once required a wheelchair to leave the court after suffering a shoulder injury). Bryant made both free throws but only scored eight points the rest of the way.

Durant, Bryant, James and Wade clearly established themselves as the game's four major MVP candidates but each of those stars had at least one bad play in the final two minutes when the result was in doubt: Durant carelessly threw the ball away to Deron Williams for an easy layup, Bryant only split a pair of free throws to give the East a chance to tie (or even win with a three pointer), Wade did his Wes Welker impression by dropping a pass that should have resulted in a layup and James inexplicably threw a soft cross court pass that got stolen instead of attempting a game-winning three or driving for a game-tying two. Any of those errors could have potentially changed the outcome but James' unwillingness to take the last shot in an exhibition game that he had dominated for long stretches is as inexplicable as the way that he disappeared in the clutch during the 2011 NBA Finals.

The lack of defensive intensity/competitiveness seen during most of the All-Star Game mirrored what we almost always see in the various iterations of what is now called the Rising Stars Challenge; that Friday night event is clearly a game played by young people (first and second year players) for young people (the arena is usually filled with kids, many of whom are admitted free or at reduced costs) and it showcases the players' remarkable athletic ability but I wish that those players understood that what is really captivating is not an uncontested dunk but a contested dunk. Several years ago, Julius Erving told me that he is disappointed with the way that All-Star Games are played in the current era: "Today's game, some of these All-Star Games, players have figured out a way to allow guys to dunk the ball and not have it perceived as the guy dunking on somebody. When I was coming up, you rarely could dunk on people and people did not want to get dunked on, it was almost like being 'posterized' if somebody dunked on you. Guys tried their best not to let anybody dunk on them. Sometimes they would just grab you rather than let you dunk. That seems to be lost somewhere in what I see with a lot of the high wire act performances. It is almost like, 'I'm going to let the guy dunk. And I'm going to get far enough out of the picture so nobody is perceiving this as me being dunked on or being posterized.' I don't understand the mentality of just letting a guy go in there and throw it down and applauding it, if he's wearing a different colored uniform. It's just playing to the crowd but I think that the crowd would respect and appreciate a play being made when somebody is trying to contest it. I think it makes for a great photo-op and a great poster if somebody is there. I remember being in Madison Square Garden and going up for a dunk and Lonnie Shelton was there and my knees were up on his shoulders. He was trying to draw a charge, I guess. Looking at that shot, when somebody is there, it is poetry in motion. Just throwing the ball up and going through the motions, I guess guys don't want to get hurt. I like watching the dunk contests—but I don't like a game to turn into a dunk contest with no defense. That does nothing for me." My favorite play of this year's Rising Stars Challenge was when John Wall tried to toss an alley-oop to himself at the end of the blowout and Greg Monroe jumped in Wall's path to steal the ball. If Wall is so enthused about doing uncontested dunks then he should sign up for the Slam Dunk Contest.

Speaking of the Slam Dunk Contest, I mean no disrespect to the four young players who participated and who seemed to be trying their best--but the format was terrible and most of the dunks were not particularly inspiring. I guess letting the fans vote on the winner is OK but having just one vote at the end drains the event of any drama because viewers (and the contestants) have no way to know who is winning. If the fans are going to vote then the voting should be done after each round. As for the dunks, there were at least five All-Star Game dunks that were better than anything we saw in the Slam Dunk Contest (though Jeremy Evans' two ball dunk off of Gordon Hayward's two simultaneous lobs was nice). The original charm of the Slam Dunk Contest, going all the way back to its 1976 ABA roots, was that we saw Hall of Fame bound players performing dunks that they could (and did) actually do during games: Julius Erving took off from the free throw line in both the 1976 and 1984 Slam Dunk Contests (and he dunked from just a step inside the free throw line as a 35 year old in the 1985 Slam Dunk Contest!) but he also dunked from the free throw line in the 1972 ABA-NBA All-Star Game. Julius Erving, David Thompson, Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins did in-game dunks in Slam Dunk Contests--and that is much more exciting than watching unheralded players doing various gimmick dunks. Most importantly, the Slam Dunk Contest must do away with the clock and must minimize the number of missed dunk attempts that are permitted; despite his perfect 50 for his free throw line dunk--an amazing feat for a 34 year old--Erving lost the 1984 Slam Dunk Contest to Larry Nance because Erving missed a dunk. I think that this was overly harsh and that a player should be permitted to either drop one dunk from his score or attempt a do-over--but there should not be more than one do-over. Repeated do-overs drain the life out of the event. I also think that props--other than perhaps using a second ball, an act that showcases a player's big hands and his hang time--should be eliminated.

The Three Point Shootout did not seem as great as it has been in years past but that may just be a subjective impression; the final round scores seemed low (Kevin Love defeated Kevin Durant 17-14) but I checked the record book and saw that--contrary to what people may think--three-time winner Larry Bird really only had one lights out final round performance (22 points in 1986) and that his other two winning scores were rather pedestrian (16 in 1987, 17 in 1988). I liked Anthony Morrow's Drazen Petrovic jersey tribute (before the event I actually thought that Morrow would win but he did not even make it out of the first round).

The Skills Competition and the Shooting Stars Competition may not thrill younger audiences but I like both events; in the former the players are required to actually use fundamental skills, while the latter provides a way for WNBA players and retired NBA players to participate in All-Star Weekend.

For me, the real highlight of the 2012 All-Star Weekend was Mel Daniels finally receiving a long overdue call from the Hall of Fame.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:34 AM

16 comments

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16 Comments:

At Monday, February 27, 2012 8:32:00 AM, Blogger xprophet said...

So you hate the Heat still. I noticed a failure to mention Kobe's foul and the "no call" the previous play. It really doesn't matter. Only the End matters - when the Heat will be laughing and the haters will go on hating.

 
At Monday, February 27, 2012 3:16:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

xprophet:

I love it when someone cannot refute the validity of anything that I wrote yet thinks that it looks smart to call me a "hater." Why don't you post under your real name so everyone can know just how smart you are?

If Kobe fouled Wade on a previous play and the refs missed it does that justify a flagrant foul--in an exhibition game no less--that breaks someone's nose? If so, then that means you will not have a problem with Metta World Peace breaking Wade's nose next Sunday, right?

Are you really sure that the Heat will be laughing in the End? Or will the End be just like the end of the All-Star Game, with LeBron hiding in the clutch?

 
At Monday, February 27, 2012 6:23:00 PM, Anonymous EdPak said...

Even as a Laker fan, I have to appreciate all the talent Lebron has as a pure physical specimen. But time and time again, his reluctance to shoot at the end of close games only reinforces the argument that the man really is afraid/unaware/incapable of even TRYING when the game's on the line.

I can understand the first pass to DWill, set him up on a great look 3pt. But, the cross-court pass and then to INBOUND the ball with time left on the clock is mystifying.

For a FACT, Kobe never shies away from THE MOMENT at the end of games, be it on offense or defense. He proved it once again. Hit it or miss it. Score on me or I'll stop you. Kobe WANTS that responsibility. LeCHOKE doesn't. What once was a joke is now a fact...LeChoke "$0.75" James.

 
At Monday, February 27, 2012 7:29:00 PM, Anonymous Michael Joseph said...

As far as I can tell, the qualifications for being a "hater" are the following:

1. Any person critical of the Miami Heat, or any of the players on the Heat. When discussing the Miami Heat, it is only acceptable to blindly assume that they will win the next three-plus championships. "Haters" on the other hand, are somewhat skeptical of this.

2. Any person even remotely or indirectly critical of Lebron James. It is only acceptable to refer to him as "King James", and it is beyond unacceptable to point out any flaws in his game. Anytime Lebron wins, it's because he's the best player in the game. Anytime he loses, it is the fault of his coach, his teammates, the media, et cetera, et cetera. In other words, it can never possibly be Lebron's fault. "Haters" refuse to accept or even acknowledge this.

3. If a person fits any of the above criteria, then by definition, they are one or more of the following:

a. Racist.
b. Jealous of Lebron’s wealth and talents.
c. Upset that Lebron doesn’t play for their team.
d. a person who just generally leads a miserable life.

 
At Monday, February 27, 2012 11:06:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

EdPak:

I cannot think of another player as talented and accomplished as James who shrinks from the big moment to the extent that James does. There are many stats and anecdotes that illustrate this and one of the most telling/dramatic is that last year James had the largest ppg decline (from regular season to Finals) among the 56 NBA players who have averaged at least 25 ppg during the regular season prior to leading their team to the Finals; James had a great regular season last year--he really should have won the MVP--and he dominated Derrick Rose in the ECF only to completely disappear against Dallas. It is just baffling.

 
At Monday, February 27, 2012 11:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Michael Joseph:

Yes, I think that you have accurately summarized what Heat fans mean when they call someone a "hater."

 
At Monday, February 27, 2012 11:48:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

Most people probably wouldn't associate Wade with being a dirty player, but that was one of the dirtiest plays you'll ever see for a couple of reasons. One, he's upset that Kobe maybe fouled him or twice, and then when Kobe schools him on a move and ready to have an easy dunk, he breaks his nose. And two, it's an exhibition and it was early in the 3rd, not like it was late 4th. I can't believe no flagrant was called. It kind of reminded me of Bell clotheslining Kobe in the 06 playoffs. Bell's frustrated with a few elbow jabs from Kobe, and then he loses his mind. Kobe does a great job of getting under players' skins.

If the heat fail this year, the pressure on them will skyrocket for the following year. A messed up year this year, but the other top contenders to challenge the heat this year seem to be better than last year.

I like the AS game a lot. I want to see a lot of scoring, but also guys playing hard. The shooting stars, skills, and 3 pt. contest are fun to watch. I guess I don't always the slam dunk contest, partially because I think it's rigged. Griffin was going to win last year, no matter what. The west seemed to be playing some defense in the first qtr. The top players in the game: kobe, lebron, durant, always seem to play hard. Why doesn't everyone else? I can understand where Rose is coming from, in that it's just a show, and it's not for him. He seems similar to duncan, as duncan just usually coasts in the game when he was an AS.

I wonder what kobe and melo were exactly saying to lebron after his TO. Kobe almost seemed disappointed that he didn't shoot it. Melo seemed to be loving the jabbing between them.

 
At Tuesday, February 28, 2012 6:15:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

You are right that Wade is not generally thought of as a dirty player but his actions on the play when Rondo hurt his elbow during last year's playoffs were questionable at best and it certainly looked like he took down Rondo on purpose; he may not have been trying to dislocate Rondo's elbow, just like he may not have been trying to break Bryant's nose, but when you make dirty plays bad things often happen. Wade's comments after the Bryant foul only make Wade look worse, because Wade is admitting that he fouled Bryant hard on purpose because he thought that the refs had missed two earlier calls. Who even pulls this kind of crap in an All-Star Game? I cannot think of one other example of a remotely similar foul in All-Star play, even by guys like Laimbeer, Rodman, Artest, etc. Whether or not Bryant fouled Wade on earlier plays, Bryant clearly did not flagrantly foul Wade or attempt to injure Wade so Wade's foul and Wade's comments are both wrong.

I really believe that 10 years from now we will all be looking back and marveling at how the Heat managed to never win a title; they briefly fooled me last year after they beat Chicago but I really think that there is just something missing that will trip them up every year--and that missing something directly relates to LeBron's inability or unwillingness to seize the big moment, something we saw yet again in the All-Star Game. LeBron did a great job of scoring a ton of points when the game seemed to be out of reach and thus there was no pressure but once the score tightened up he did not want the pressure of taking the potential game-tying or game-winning shot. ESPN's Tim Legler suggested that what Kobe was saying to LeBron is that if LeBron had taken that shot one on one versus Kobe that it would have created a moment--make or miss--that would have been replayed for years. LeBron robbed us all of that moment by declining the challenge and throwing the ball away. Jerry West won the All-Star MVP by hitting a game-winning buzzer beater over Walt Frazier--the best defensive guard of that era--but LeBron apparently does not relish the chance to do something similar. That West shot is shown in almost any highlight reel of his career even though the All-Star Game is "just" an exhibition.

I like the way that Rose refused to cave in to peer pressure to dance during the intros. It is fine to dance if you want to but Rose said that he did not think this was the right time or place and that it would have been inauthentic for him to just go along with it. I really hope that Rose has a healthy team alongside him when the Bulls face the Heat in the playoffs, because Rose is a player who wants the ball, who does not brag when he wins and who does not make excuses when he loses.

 
At Tuesday, February 28, 2012 11:32:00 AM, Anonymous boyer said...

Of course you love what Rose did as you're a bulls fan. No, I love it, too, and I'm not a bulls fan. If Kobe can't win, I'd rather have Rose win if I had to choose.

What you mean by a healthy team is a healthy rose mostly. He needs to get healthy. Luckily for him, his team is so deep, they can afford and should afford to rest him until he's basically 100%. Watson, Lucas, and James have all played really well at times as backup PGs.

I wish I could've seen those pregame intros. I missed them.

As a non-lebron fan, I loved seeing him steer clear from the big moment at the AS game. I'm all right with the pass to williams, as that seemed to be the play they wanted to run. But, kobe vs. lebron to end the AS game. What more could you ask for as a basketball fan? Lebron has seemed to be more about business this year, but you don't truly know how you'll respond in the big moments until you're in the big moments, and it seems like he hasn't changed. Kobe's defense on lebron was pretty awesome late in that game. He did hit one crazy 3, but that's not the norm for him, and it was an extremely difficult shot. I did notice during the game that when they were guarding each other, kobe usually scored while lebron missed every time except one.

Lebron is a puzzling player. I'd probably be lying if I knew he'd come up short so much, especially with great teams around him, but I never believed the hype or maybe didn't want to, that he seemed to be missing something. He was great in the 07 playoffs, until the finals, but I don't remember him hiding in the finals. He just didn't play well, and the spurs were much better. So, it makes his disappearing acts in the last 2 playoff much more puzzling if you consider his previous few playoffs. Something changed, it seems. He had a great game 7 against boston in 08. Maybe it was the 09 series against orlando. His team had 66 reg. season wins that year. Orlando was good, but not great, and maybe that got to him. But, the cavs were up 2-1 in the 10 series against the c's after dismantling them in game 3, weird how that series ended.

 
At Tuesday, February 28, 2012 4:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

I am not a Bulls fan--or a fan of any other team now for that matter. I was a Sixers fan during Dr. J's career and I liked the Bulls during Scottie Pippen's career (and then I rooted for Pippen when he played for Houston and Portland) but since Pippen retired I have not rooted for a particular team.

The Bulls not only need for Rose to be healthy but they need for Deng and Hamilton to get healthy and for the bigs to stay healthy.

LeBron hit nine shots in a row at one point (not all of them on Kobe) but a lot of that run came with the East trailing by a big margin so there really was no pressure. When the game got tight LeBron suddenly did not want the ball.

In the 2007 Finals, the Spurs stymied LeBron because he had not yet added any kind of perimeter shot to his repertoire; the Spurs sagged off of him and he shot an atrocious percentage while also turning the ball over at an alarming rate because the sagging defense enabled the Spurs to easily clog the passing lanes. I covered two of those games and would not say that LeBron quit but I would say that his skill set limitations at that time hurt him. In the 2010 and 2011 playoffs versus Boston and Dallas respectively LeBron clearly did not exert maximum effort at key moments. In the 2012 All-Star Game LeBron played with high energy for most of the game but seemed to back away from the big lights in the final couple minutes.

 
At Tuesday, February 28, 2012 6:36:00 PM, Anonymous EdPak said...

I think it's a PE issue for Lebron. Premature Exultation...There's no doubt that the guy has all the physical abilities to outright dominate the league. And at times, he does. But his inability to compose himself and his tendencies to shy away from the critical moments have a lot to do with a lack of discipline, respect and humility growing up. All those characteristics of hard work, focus and achievement seem to be missing in Lebron. He's all about potential and entitlement.

It's great you can party and have a good time, but discipline yourself to that task at hand, namely, fulfill the potential and the gifts nature has given him to truly become the greatest player the league has ever seen. Respect one's opponent, not by just shaking his hand, but expecting that the opponent will give his best, so prepare. Prepare and work to develop the craft so that whatever the opponent does, that he will overcome him. And finally, humble himself, to think that he's not as good as he can be and continue to work on his craft to improve day in and day out. This is what I respect about Kobe. He has all these qualities in him. Lebron doesn't.

When I look at Lebron, he carries himself as tho he expects to be given everything. I truly think he believes he's "The King". Entitled, he expects others to step aside and give him his bounty. Celebrated coming into the league (by the media hordes), celebrated after winning a few games in Cleveland (promising to finish the task at hand and bring home a title to C-town...which he didn't), and celebrated in Miami (claiming to win, not one, not two, not three...but how many titles?) before he did anything.

It's one thing for the fans to expect titles from someone as gifted as him, but Lebron's expectations of, not himself, but others to get out of his way and his sense of entitlement and Premature (self)Exultation time and time again are proving to ultimately be his undoing. As you said, David, I doubt Lebron will ever win a title. Unless someone just hands it to him, he'll be too scared to take it as other superstars have done.

 
At Tuesday, February 28, 2012 7:39:00 PM, Anonymous Michael Joseph said...

Lebron's demeanor in the final moments of the All-Star game were eerily similar to his demeanor throughout the NBA Finals. When the pressure truly started to mount, he simply did not want the ball. It actually appeared that he was hyperventilating, suggesting that he was possibly on the verge of a panic attack. Of course, I have no idea what was or wasn't going through his mind, it just seemed that he really did not want to be in those situations.

In the case that Lebron does in fact experience excruciating anxiety in those moments, I genuinely hope that he is eventually able to overcome it. It would be a real shame if he never realized his full potential because of nerves. I’m not saying that Lebron cannot be an all-time great without winning a championship, but it would be one of the greatest disappointments in sport’s history if he did not get at least one. I mean, who would have ever guessed that Lebron would be in his ninth season in the league and still not have a ring? Upon his arrival way back in 2003, most people would have guessed that he’d have at least two by now (he’s certainly had the opportunities to).

That being said, I can't say that I feel even remotely sorry for him. If he is bothered by the pressure and the hype, he really has no one to blame but himself. Yes, the media has unfairly touted him as the Second Coming of Christ, but Lebron has made no real effort to extinguish the hype and has actually embraced and encouraged it for most of his career. A good dose genuine humility would go a long way for him. Most of Lebron’s feeble attempts at humility usually occur after massive PR blunders, in an effort to deflect criticism. Of course, they usually backfire and he is even more scrutinized.

 
At Tuesday, February 28, 2012 8:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sharp

Personally, I didn't think Wade deliberately tried to hurt Bryant on the foul. He got beat on the spin move, didn't want to give up the dunk, so he put his arms over Kobe's shoulders to prevent him from shooting. The contact which resulted in the broken nose seemed inadvertent.

I think Lebron deciding against taking the last shot is blown a little out of proportion. He definitely has shown a propensity for shying away from pressure situations, but it's not a big deal to let someone else take the big shot in an all star game. Kobe give him crap about it was pretty funny, though.

 
At Tuesday, February 28, 2012 10:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

EdPak:

Very well put. I agree that it seems like the only way that LeBron will win a championship is if the title is just handed to him; that could certainly happen in this lockout-compressed season in which injuries have been a major story line but I hope that LeBron has to face Chicago at full strength and, if the Heat beat the Bulls, that they face OKC or some other worthy team at full strength.

 
At Tuesday, February 28, 2012 10:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Michael Joseph:

I don't know if LeBron was hyperventilating but he clearly did not want the ball down the stretch when the game was close and this is not a new scenario with him. I cannot think of another player with his talent who shrinks from the big moment the way that he does. Any player can miss a shot or make a bad play in a big moment--and most great players have experienced such failures--but LeBron does not "dare to be great," which is the way that Julius Erving once described his approach to such situations: a great player should embrace the chance to be the hero or the goat instead of shifting that responsibility to someone else.

 
At Tuesday, February 28, 2012 10:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sharp:

Only Wade knows what was in his heart and in his mind at that moment but the play that he made is dangerous and can easily lead to injury; he swung at Kobe above Kobe's head with both arms and he used enough force to not only break Kobe's nose but to cause a concussion. The literal definition of a flagrant foul is "unnecessary and excessive contact" and if that play does not fit that definition then I don't know what does. During the regular season the NBA reviews such plays and often issues flagrant fouls retroactively and I think that the league should assign a flagrant one foul to this play.

The reason that the criticism of LeBron is not overblown is that this is the continuation of a troubling pattern with LeBron: he repeatedly shrinks from the moment. In addition to the 2011 NBA Finals and the 2010 NBA playoffs you may also recall that he hardly distinguished himself versus Greece in the 2006 FIBA World Championship (after bragging "They don't know what to do" when Team USA took the lead, LeBron disappeared down the stretch as Greece took over the game) and he was an innocent bystander in the fourth quarter of the 2008 Olympic gold medal game when Kobe had to save the day to prevent another Team USA loss in FIBA play.

 

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