NEW YORK — The unusually oppressive cold outside perhaps contributed to a rather chill attitude from the players at the 64th NBA All-Star game.
Defense has never been much of an option in this annual showcase for the league’s top talents, but participants raised their level of indifference to the extent that fans at Madison Square Garden were only marginally impressed by the uncontested three-pointers and alley-oops dunks.
James led the East with 30 points, surpassing Michael Jordan for second place on the all-time scoring list behind Kobe Bryant. James provided two of the game’s best highlights when he opened the game by catching a lob from Washington Wizards point guard John Wall for a dunk and later woke up an otherwise napping audience by catching a pass from Toronto’s Kyle Lowry for a reverse two-handed slam.
Reigning league’s most valuable player Kevin Durant arrived with the all-time best all-star game scoring average with 30.6 points but he went scoreless in the first half and finished with three points, knocking down a shot from long distance on Westbrook’s lone assist in the game.
Durant had no problem deferring to his more fiery and irascible teammate, who finally got a chance to be appreciated on his own merits. Westbrook wasn’t looking to pass and few could find fault with the lane widening for every drive and no hands raised for any jumpers. Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (15 assists) twice found him for impressive lobs. The first ended with Westbrook catching a three-quarter court pass from Paul and finishing with a reverse two-handed layup. The second came in the third quarter and nearly injured Westbrook as he banged his head on the side of the backboard before dunking. An angry Westbrook snarled at the crowd, then patted his head afterward.
New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony was the de facto host for the weekend as the lone representative from either New York or Brooklyn and generated some controversy about playing with him possibly shutting down for the rest of the season because of a nagging left knee problem. Anthony described the criticism as “a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation.” But he played on, scoring 14 points but was laboring as he missed 14 of 20 shots from the floor.
“I will never forget this moment,” he said. “By getting out there and participating in the weekend, participating in this game here on my home court. That was my way of showing the fans that voted me in my appreciation.”
Tim Duncan was the only link from the last all-star game played at Madison Square Garden in 1998 — when he made his debut — and joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only player to participate in 15 all-star games. Duncan scored two points on a fourth-quarter jam but was most impressed when fellow greybeard Dirk Nowitzki caught an alley-oop lob from Golden State’s Stephen Curry. After his rare dunk, Nowitzki pointed to the ceiling, Curry enthusiastically pumped his fist and Duncan grinned and got out of his seat.
Curry scored 15 points and had a play that couldn’t be topped by a video game when he split three defenders with a behind-the-back dribble, then hit a ridiculous, underhand scoop shot high off the backboard and out of the reach of Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford.
The Hawks became just the eighth team in NBA history to send four players to the game, and guard Kyle Korver led the quartet with 21 points after connecting on seven three-pointers. Wall added 19 points and eight assists in his first ever all-star start.
James Harden scored 29 points, breaking a 148-all tie in the fourth quarter with a three-pointer as the West pulled away with a decisive 10-1 run.
Westbrook went to the foul line in the final seconds with the West leading by three and made the first free throw to get to 40 points. He put some extra arc on his shot, trying to miss on purpose, which would’ve given him a chance for a rebound and a putback to match Chamberlain’s 53-year-old scoring record. The free throw went in.
“I guess I couldn’t miss tonight, huh?” said Westbrook, who was aware of the record. “Somebody told me, but at that time we were just trying to find a way to win the game and find a way to close the game out. But I missed about six or seven layups. I definitely could have had it.”
SOURCE: Washington Post