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Monday, February 18, 2019

Kevin Durant Wins his Second All-Star MVP as Team LeBron Overcomes 20 Point Deficit to Defeat Team Giannis, 178-164

The NBA All-Star Game is not as good as it used to be, and it probably never will be again. If one understands and accepts those premises, it is possible to still derive enjoyment from watching the world's best basketball players showcasing their athleticism and skills. I have been watching the NBA All-Star Game since the 1980s and I have seen highlights--if not complete game footage--from many of the pre-1980s All-Star Games as well. The All-Star Game used to showcase both a higher fundamental skill level and a greater level of competitiveness than it does now. Today's players can do incredible things but they don't understand that those things are even more incredible when accomplished against defensive resistance as opposed to defensive indifference.

The All-Star Game sunk to such depths a few years ago that there were even whispers that it might be discontinued. Instead, the league changed the format from East versus West to a format in which the top two vote-getters conduct a draft consisting of a pool of other All-Stars selected by fans, coaches and media members. LeBron James faced off against Giannis Antetokounmpo in this year's All-Star draft. Popular consensus was that James, whose draft strategy seemed to be focused on acquiring every major player who will be a free agent soon, got the better of Antetokounmpo--but it did not look like that initially, as Team Giannis led 53-37 after the first quarter and 95-82 at halftime. Antetokounmpo scored a game-high 38 points on 17-23 field goal shooting, including 10 dunks. He also had 11 rebounds and five assists. He set the tone in the first quarter with 16 points. Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee teammate/All-Star teammate Khris Middleton added 20 points on 7-13 field goal shooting, including 6-10 from three point range. Middleton scored 12 first quarter points.

To coin--or repeat--a phrase, it seemed like Team LeBron was in "chill mode" during the first half, but in the second half they exerted at least some defensive effort and they rained down a barrage of three pointers. Team LeBron outscored Team Giannis 96-69 in the second half while shooting 22-49 from three point range. The teams combined to attempt 167 three pointers during the game, compared to 108 two pointers attempted.

Kevin Durant earned MVP honors by scoring 31 points on 10-15 field goal shooting (including 6-9 from three point range) while also contributing seven rebounds. He had 11 points on 4-4 field goal shooting in the fourth quarter. Durant's Golden State teammate Klay Thompson finished second on Team LeBron with 20 points on 7-16 field goal shooting (6-12 from three point range) and he had eight rebounds and four assists as well.

James had a subdued game by his standards, finishing with 19 points on 9-17 field goal shooting (including 1-8 from three point range), plus eight rebounds and four assists. Kawhi Leonard also had 19 points, along with five rebounds and two assists. Leonard had nine points--all on three pointers--in the fourth quarter. Kyrie Irving was the unlikely Team LeBron rebounding leader with nine. He also had 13 points and six assists, one behind Ben Simmons' team-high seven assists. Simmons contributed 10 points and six rebounds. Damian Lillard had 18 points, six rebounds and five assists while compiling a game-best +20 plus/minus number. He scored nine points in the third quarter to help kick-start the comeback.

Paul George scored 20 points for Team Giannis, doing most of his damage from beyond the arc. His Oklahoma City teammate Russell Westbrook added 17 points, four rebounds and three assists. Westbrook shot too many three pointers--ending up just 1-8 from beyond the arc--and his gait has not seemed quite right all season in the wake of his knee surgery, but he played with his customary energy and made a point of trying to get his teammates involved, twice passing up shots in the paint to set up open three pointers.

Stephen Curry had some nice moments but he fell apart in the fourth quarter, shooting just 3-11 from the field (including 1-8 on three pointers) as Team Giannis collapsed down the stretch. Curry finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists but he shot a woeful 6-23 from the field (4-17 on three pointers), and one of his six makes was an uncontested dunk as time ran out.

Joel Embiid led Team Giannis with a game-high 12 rebounds but he scored just 10 points on 4-12 field goal shooting and in the fourth quarter he fumbled the ball like he was Edward Scissorhands, repeatedly letting smaller players slap the ball away on plays when he should have scored or drawn a foul. Officially, in the final stanza he shot 1-4 from the field and had one turnover but it looked/felt like he squandered more possessions than that.

Charlotte fans enjoyed watching the Hornets' Kemba Walker amass a game-high eight assists, but he shot just 2-8 from the field and scored only four points.

The Commissioner's special selections, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade, delighted the fans during their cameo appearances for Team Giannis and Team LeBron respectively. Nowitzki scored 9 points on 3-3 shooting from three point range in four minutes, while Wade had seven points, four assists and two rebounds in 10 minutes. Nowitzki moves like he is encased in ice and he looks like he will need a week long ice bath for recovery after every game, but he shoots like he will be able to make spot up, tippy toe three pointers forever.

The golden age of the NBA All-Star Game took place in the 1980s, when perennial All-Star point guards Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas set a tone that nicely balanced showmanship and competitiveness. For example, look at the 1988 contest (Magic Johnson was injured and did not play in the 1989 game 30 years ago): the East won 138-133 over the West in a high scoring, up tempo game, but a game that was not completely out of the context of how the regular season games were played during that season when the average team scored 108.2 ppg and the top-scoring team (the Denver Nuggets) averaged 116.7 ppg. Also, the East shot 3-6 from three point range and the West shot 1-5 from three point range. The East shot .519 from the field, while the West shot .426 from the field. No one is suggesting that the 1988 All-Star Game was a defensive slugfest but there was at least some defensive resistance and it looked--both visually and statistically--like some semblance of a "real" game. Players shot from the post, from midrange and on drives, showcasing a variety of skills.The East had 11 steals and 11 blocked shots, while the West had 11 steals and seven blocked shots. The East committed 29 fouls, while the West committed 27 fouls.

In contrast, this season, the average team is scoring 110.7 ppg and the top-scoring team (the Golden State Warriors) is averaging 118.8 ppg but the All-Star game made a run at matching those totals in the first half. As noted above, the vast majority of shots attempted in the 2019 All-Star Game were three pointers, many of which were fired up early in the shot clock from well beyond the arc. Team LeBron had nine steals and six blocked shots while committing nine fouls and Team Giannis had eight steals and one blocked shot while committing six fouls; those numbers starkly contrast with the 1988 numbers, and suggest that the 1988 All-Star Game at least resembled a real game, while the 2019 All-Star Game was much more like an intra-squad scrimmage--and a low intensity one at that, not like the famous Dream Team scrimmage pitting Michael Jordan's squad against Magic Johnson's squad.

NBA players have remarkable athletic ability and shooting skills but those abilities and skills are best demonstrated in an environment that is at least semi-competitive.

Recent NBA All-Star Game Recaps:

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 NBA All-Star Game Has Become a Farce (2017):

"The Western Conference's 192-182 victory over the Eastern Conference is without question the worst NBA All-Star Game that I have ever watched. Other than the MLB All-Star Game that ended in a tie (and many NFL Pro Bowls of recent vintage) it may be the worst major professional league All-Star Game ever. When the reigning two-time regular season MVP literally lies down on the court instead of attempting to play defense, you know that the event has jumped the shark"

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:57 AM

3 comments

3 Comments:

At Monday, February 18, 2019 11:06:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no idea why they thought the change in format will help make it less of a farce. It was less of a fare last season when the scoring was down by 50 points on each team compared to the absolute low point that was the 2017 ASG, but now it's back up by 20-25 points, and certainly no defense was played whatsoever for most of the game.

The only thing the change in format did was to break the tradition -- it had always been East vs West, for 67 seasons, that's a rather long tradition. By making it Team X vs Team Y, you further devalue the event, even compared to the farce it had become, by disconnecting it from that tradition.

There also has to be an understanding that watching uncontested dunks by superstar players might have been somewhat exciting some time ago, but in the era of YouTube and professional dunkers who are much better at it than even the best NBA players, there is nothing particularly impressive about it. Nor are fancy passes and dribbles particularly impressive after two decades of streetball moves being available to everyone with a computer. The only thing that these players can do better than anyone else is actually play the game as a competitive sport.

Lots of proposals have been made about introducing some real stakes to the ASG (playoff seeding, draft probabilities, etc.), I don't see a way out of this mess without something of that sort.

 
At Monday, February 18, 2019 3:13:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree with your points. Although I did not mention it in my article, I share your disappointment about the abandonment of the traditional East versus West format.

 
At Tuesday, February 19, 2019 1:07:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

I don't see the point in uncompetitive game for show, we could watch each team with its own ball shooting 3s on its own half... and there wouldn't be much difference.

It is ironic players still couldn't hit those uncontested 3s, although most likely because they didn't even care. So argument about display of skill is false too.

I get it, it won't change as long as money flows and people still watch the farce. Too bad for me.

 

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