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NBA All-Star Game produces a record score in a forgettable blowout

NBA All-Star Game produces a record score in a forgettable blowout

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

INDIANAPOLIS — The NBA had hoped for a more intense and competitive All-Star Game. Instead, it got a record-setting scoring explosion in a forgettable blowout that unexpectedly ended with a wave of boos.

Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard and Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton led the Eastern Conference to a 211-186 victory over the Western Conference at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Sunday night. The East was the first team in All-Star Game history to score at least 200 points, demolishing the previous scoring record of 196 set by the West in 2016.

The East’s commanding performance qualified as a surprise, given that the West’s loaded roster featured three MVPs — LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Nikola Jokic — in its starting lineup and a fourth, Stephen Curry, coming off the bench. But the East’s younger legs and hot outside shooting were more than enough to overcome the on-paper talent disparity as Lillard and Haliburton combined to make 21 three-pointers.

Lillard, who won the three-point contest, and Haliburton, who led a Pacers trio to a victory in the skills challenge, carried over their momentum from All-Star Saturday. By midway through the third quarter, the only drama was which of the East’s starting guards would take home MVP honors.

Though Haliburton helped sealed the win with a pair of late three-pointers and a breakaway dunk, Lillard won the Kobe Bryant MVP trophy with a team-high 39 points and a game-high 11 three-pointers. Haliburton finished with 32 points, seven rebounds and six assists, and his MVP snubbing prompted loud boos from the home crowd.

“I expect [the boos],” said Lillard, who was the All-Star Game MVP for the first time in his eighth appearance. “We’re in his hometown, his building. He had a great game, but it’s an honor. Any time you have this type of experience enough, you want to be All-Star Game MVP. Being able to come out with this is a special accomplishment.”

Lillard received seven of the 12 MVP votes; Haliburton received five.

The NBA spent months making a concerted effort to put on a more compelling show after the 2023 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City was panned for its lack of intensity. That contest suffered from a relative lack of headlining star power; Curry and Durant were sidelined with injuries, while James and Giannis Antetokounmpo played limited minutes with dubious health concerns.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Saturday that the league met with the National Basketball Players Association to explore tweaks that would help increase buy-in from stars who are pulled in many different directions during All-Star Weekend. The league’s brain trust concluded that simpler was better, choosing to return to a traditional East-vs.-West format rather than having two captains draft the roster and reverting to a standard four-quarter format instead of the “Elam ending,” which used a complicated target score approach.

In addition, the league trimmed down the pregame festivities by introducing the players on the court rather than on an elaborate stage and featured Jennifer Hudson in a simpler halftime act.

“People uniformly were critical of last year’s All-Star Game and felt it was not a competitive game,” Silver said. “The feeling was that maybe … we’d gotten carried away a little bit with the entertainment aspect. … We have to return to basketball. It’s about the game. That’s ultimately how we’re going to be judged.”

Indiana, long hailed as a basketball haven, seemed receptive to the changes, especially early in the evening. Larry Bird, the Hall of Fame product of Indiana State, welcomed the crowd with an enthusiastic “Indy, start your engines!” And Pacers legend Reggie Miller took the microphone at center court before the game to reminisce on his 18-year career with Indiana.

“Many places consider themselves the home of basketball, but Indiana really is basketball country,” Miller said to loud applause.

But the thoughtful structural changes didn’t produce a better balance between offense and defense: The East and West scored at a breakneck pace from the jump. The East began pulling away before halftime and finished 42 for 97 from deep.

Haliburton hit five three-pointers in the first four minutes, including a deep attempt from the NBA logo near center court. Lillard added six first-half three-pointers of his own, drilling one over Durant from well beyond the arc. The 33-year-old guard, who was traded by the Portland Trail Blazers last summer, didn’t slow down after halftime, swishing a three-point attempt from half court early in the third quarter and another in the game’s final minute.

“Once we came out in the third, we made a lot of shots,” Lillard said. “Everybody was asking what the [scoring] record was. We found out, and then we went after it.”

James, who was nursing an ankle injury entering the all-star break, posted eight points, four rebounds and three assists in 14 minutes before ceding the stage for the second half. The Los Angeles Lakers star drew oohs and aahs by throwing down a pair of powerful dunks.

“I did seek treatment the last few days, trying to get my ankle as strong and as back to where I feel confident that I can finish off this last third of the season,” James said before the game. “I can get out there and run around with the young guys for a little bit and then shut it down at some point to give my body, and my ankle more importantly, another opportunity to rest.”

With James absent and Jokic coasting for much of the contest, the West lacked the firepower to pull itself back into the contest and the NBA was denied the hard-fought crunchtime it was hoping to produce. Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns filled in the gaps for the West, scoring a game-high 50 points off the bench.

The crowd remained largely quiet as the teams traded baskets in what amounted to a quarter-plus of garbage time. As the East’s lead ballooned to more than 25 points in the fourth quarter, a few fans in the upper bowl began chanting “Dee-fense!”

Their pleas proved to be in vain.

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