Sunday, July 22, 2018
Sports

Indifferent play of NBA All-Stars is jarring to see up close

NEW ORLEANS — The NBA All-Star Game is where 24 of the most competitive men on the planet turn into pussycats.

This probably won't strike you as news.

But seeing it in the flesh for the first time … it's jarring.

The players jog up and down the floor. They wouldn't get whistled for walking from half-court to the French Quarter. Rather than contest a shot, the West's Marc Gasol offered a head fake. At least he pretended to care.

Early in the fourth quarter, the crowd woke up long enough to start a chant of: "DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!"

Best moment of the night.

LeBron James fired one from about 40 feet early in the shot clock. It went in. Stephen Curry launched one from half-court. It did not.

Russell Westbrook tried alley-ooping it to himself off the glass. He missed. Isaiah Thomas retaliated by trying his own board-and-flush. He missed too.

Guess that passes for camaraderie on a Sunday night in New Orleans.

So did this: Midway through the first quarter, the ice thawed on the Westbrook-Kevin Durant cold war. Westbrook passed to his former Oklahoma City teammate, and Durant returned the favor. After flushing it down, Westbrook pointed to the big man to acknowledge the pass.

The Western Conference bench erupted in mock cheers, and ESPN reported that DeMarcus Cousins told Durant: "I'm proud of you, man."

The game, which delivered a final score of West 192, East 182 was so uninteresting and noncompetitive, I half-wondered whether Bud Selig had any ideas to improve it.

It wasn't always this way. As fivethirtyeight.com's Nate Silver pointed out, Hakeem Olajuwon actually fouled out of the 1987 game. On Sunday, no player went into halftime with more than a single foul.

No wonder the first half featured an All-Star Game-record 189 points. The West jacked up a record 74 shots, hitting 43.

Observers believe a turning point came in the 2012 game, when Dwyane Wade broke Kobe Bryant's nose with a hard foul. He later apologized, saying, "I never wanted that kind of outcome."

A possible offshoot was what transpired Sunday, an exhibition in the most literal sense.

Chicago native and New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis did what was basically predetermined, winning the game MVP award by scoring a record 52 points, on 26-of-39 shooting. He broke Wilt Chamberlain's mark of 42 points in 1962.

"It was a lot of fun," Davis said. "My teammates did a great job of looking for me."

The West set a record last year by recording 196 points in a 23-point victory. They fell two slams shy of that this time.

At one point in the second half, Curry actually attempted to play some defense, leaping to break up an alley-oop. But he didn't rise high enough, and Giannis Antetokounmpo's slam hit Curry in the head.

Next time down, Curry noticed the "Greek Freak" coming toward him with a full head of steam, so he laid on the floor, face down, hands over his head.

Then Durant hung on the rim long enough to microwave a potato.

Antetokounmpo actually took the game somewhat seriously. Hey, it was his first time. He'll learn.

He stole a dribble from James Harden in the first half and threw down a wicked slam.

He guarded Durant so tight on a drive, KD glared at him after hitting the bucket.

HOW DARE YOU, SIR!

It was that kind of night.

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