By: Rob Bishop
Back again, and the NBA All Star Game adopted a new end-game format, utilizing the increasingly-popular Elam Ending. All told, the decision was a massive success, with the game boasting something incredibly rare for an All-Star exhibition of any sport: late-game intensity. With the game-winning point sum known throughout the final quarter, both teams were invested in the game, and ultimately Team LeBron came out on top with the narrow win.
Team LeBron was highlighted by an MVP performance from Kawhi Leonard, who scored 30 points while knocking down eight three-pointers. Ben Simmons also impressed, scoring 17 on 8-of-9 shooting while operating as an off-ball offensive weapon, and veteran point guard Chris Paul put up 23 points, having hit seven three-pointers and finishing an alley-oop for his first in-game dunk since 2015. On the other end of the spectrum, Russell Westbrook did nothing to silence the critics of his All-Star selection, missing eight of his ten shot attempts.
In defeat, Team Giannis put up quite a fight, thanks in large part to namesake Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 25 points, grabbed 11 boards, and put forth some incredible defensive plays for the highlight reel during the fourth quarter. Rudy Gobert’s All-Star debut, which was a few years too late, was a success as he scored 21 points on 10-of-11 shooting, and Kyle Lowry was a fourth quarter superstar as he attacked the contest like it was a playoff battle.
Saturday night was home to an excellent Slam Dunk Contest, with Magic forward Aaron Gordon losing in controversial fashion to Heat wing Derrick Jones Jr. The contest went into a dunk-off due to their dueling excellence, with Jones ultimately emerging as the victor. Gordon, however, arguably had the better night, only failing to notch a perfect ‘50’ score on his final dunk, which may have been his best of the night as he soared over 7-foot-5 center Tacko Fall. Gordon’s defeat garnered justified scorn from many across the NBA landscape.
Earlier on Saturday night, Kings guard Buddy Hield putting on a shooting showcase as he won the Three-Point Contest, defeating Devin Booker by a single point during the finals. Hield has taken a step back as a shooter this season following last year’s breakout, but as Saturday night evidenced, he remains among the truly elite beyond-the-arc threats in the NBA. Though Hield has been coming off the bench of late for Sacramento, he continues to see a starter’s workload, and the Kings have gone 6-4 in 10 games with Hield anchoring the second unit.
There were certainly bigger names in action during Friday night’s Rising Stars game, but Hornets second-year wing Miles Bridges earned the game’s MVP honors with an excellent performance. Bridges stuffed the stat sheet with 20 points, five boards, five dimes, and three steals, while also contributing multiple dunks to the highlight reel. An increase an minutes-per-game has benefited Bridges’ counting stats this season, but he has been a relative disappointment. Friday night illustrated his potential, and the Hornets need some improvement during the final thirty games of the regular season to reliably consider Bridges as part of the team’s core heading into next year.
Washington had a pair of big men on the World roster in the Rising Stars game, and both played well while continuing to look like building blocks for the franchise. Rookie Rui Hachimura (14 points) and Moritz Wagner (16 points) represented the Wizards with style, with Wagner in particular standing out as one of the lone participants to actually play defense in the contest. The Wizards are a sneaky threat to seize control of the eight seed in the East, and its young big man pairing is a key part to Bradley Beal’s supporting cast.
Cleveland is headed back to the draft lottery this summer thanks to a disappointing first year under head coach John Beilein. On Sunday, news surfaced that Beilein, who signed a five-year contract prior to the season, may be stepping down from the position in the immediate future. At 14-40, the Cavaliers have been an on-court disaster, and Beilein’s rigid ways, a byproduct of his extensive career in the college ranks, have led to obvious tension with Cleveland’s roster. Beilein stepping down would be a best-case scenario for the Cavaliers.