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Monday, February 19, 2018

LeBron James Earns Third All-Star Game MVP as Team LeBron Outlasts Team Stephen, 148-145

LeBron James scored a game-high 29 points on 12-17 field goal shooting, grabbed a game-high tying 10 rebounds and dished eight assists as Team LeBron defeated Team Stephen 148-145 in the first year of the NBA's new All-Star selection format; instead of the traditional matchup featuring the Eastern Conference facing the Western Conference, a team of All-Stars picked by LeBron James faced a team of All-Stars picked by Stephen Curry. The NBA tweaked the All-Star Game in the wake of several subpar All-Star Games, culminating in last year's farce.

Before the 2018 All-Star Game, James already held the NBA All-Star Game career scoring record (314 points) and yesterday he surpassed Julius Erving (321 points) to set the record for most points scored in ABA and NBA All-Star Games combined. Bob Pettit (1956, 58, 59, 62) and Kobe Bryant (2002, 2007, 2009, 2011) share the record with four All-Star Game MVPs each, while James joined Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal as three-time winners; James previously earned the All-Star Game MVP in 2006 and 2008.

The 2018 All-Star Game was not exactly a defensive slugfest, nor did its playing spirit completely hearken back to the event's golden age (1980s and earlier) when both teams competed hard on a more consistent basis, but this was a major improvement for an event that was rapidly sinking into irrelevance. The All-Star Game is never going to be played at playoff intensity with final scores in the high 90s or low 100s--nor should it be--but the All-Star Game is supposed to be about the sport's best players showcasing the full range of their talents; since half of the sport involves playing defense, it is nice to see players demonstrating their abilities at that end of the court as well.

I have cited this quote from my 2006 All-Star weekend interview with Julius Erving several times but it is worth citing it again: 
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.  
One of the few modern players who embodies the competitive ethos that Erving eloquently described is Russell Westbrook. The two-time All-Star Game MVP had a quiet game by his lofty standards (11 points, eight rebounds, eight assists) but he scored eight points in the last 3:03 of the fourth quarter to lead Team LeBron's final push, including the basket that put Team LeBron up by three points. Westbrook's plus/minus number of +12 was the second best on Team LeBron, trailing only the team's other starting guard, Kyrie Irving (13 points, nine assists, seven rebounds). When Westbrook is on the court, he always plays with a high intensity level and that is contagious.

Other top performers for Team LeBron included Kevin Durant (19 points, six rebounds, five assists) and Westbrook's Oklahoma City teammate Paul George (16 points, five rebounds, four assists, +11 plus/minus number).

Damian Lillard and DeMar DeRozan led Team Stephen with 21 points each. Joel Embiid contributed 19 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots (including a sensational rejection of a Westbrook attempt in the first half) and Embiid would have likely been the MVP had his team won the game. Team Stephen looked best when Lillard was in the game (+18) and looked worst when James Harden (-21) was missing three pointers from all angles (12 points on 5-19 field goal shooting, including a dreadful 2-13 from three point range, though he had eight assists and seven rebounds). Stephen Curry also did not distinguish himself (11 points on 4-14 field goal shooting).

The All-Star Game still featured too many wild three point shots (19-58 three point shooting by Team LeBron, 17-65 three point shooting by Team Stephen) and too much defensive indifference at times but the contest ended in a relatively intense flourish over the last few minutes, culminating with Team LeBron smothering Curry so that Curry could not even launch a potential game-tying trey before time expired. The competitive level exhibited in the final stanza is what true fans want and deserve in the NBA All-Star Game: the best athletes in the world displaying the full range of their skills at both ends of the court.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:03 PM

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At Tuesday, February 20, 2018 1:40:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

I knew right away when Dantoni took out Embiid the Stephen Team was going to choke. He had been ungardable, using his size advantage over the smaller defenders and limiting their inside scoring. Once he left, James got an easy layup.

Some things never change.

 
At Sunday, March 04, 2018 12:26:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

This week's narrative:

How soon before the "encouraging" LBJ starts throwing his new teammates under the bus in a passive-aggressive way?

 

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