While defense was tough to come by, there was plenty of star power, high-flying acrobatics and nifty scoring on display at the 63rd NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans on Sunday night as the East snapped a three-game losing streak to the West.
Led by Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving, who combined to score 61 points, the Eastern Conference All-Stars battled back from an 18-point second-half deficit to win, 163-155, in a record-breaking contest.
Irving, making just his second All-Star Game appearance, finished with 31 points and 14 assists en route to taking home the MVP award.
From the opening tip, both squads were looking to entertain, and it didn't take long at all for the first quarter to turn into an unofficial slam-dunk competition.
The lack of defense sparked a sarcastic but equally hilarious comment from eight-time NBA All-Star Steve Nash:
While LeBron James wowed with his athleticism and creativity, Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin stole the show early on, throwing down jam after jam to conclude the opening quarter with a game-high 18 points.
He scored just two more before halftime, although it was in sensational fashion, as he slammed home a half-court alley-oop from first-time All-Star Stephen Curry.
Griffin finished with a quiet 38 points on a ridiculously efficient 19-of-23 shooting from the field.
The first quarter came to an end quickly, thanks to the back-and-forth action, but not before the teams combined to score 86 points.
Kevin Durant and the Western Conference All-Stars pulled away slightly in the second period, but Carmelo Anthony's long-range heroics kept the East within striking distance heading into the locker room.
The West's 89 first-half points set a new All-Star Game record and gave Scott Brooks' side a 13-point lead at the break.
The third quarter featured more of the same, as the two sides took turns wowing the crowd inside the Smoothie King Center.
But during the highlight-reel action, two superstars managed to enter the All-Star Game record books. For the East, Anthony became the third player to hit six three-pointers. Meanwhile, Durant became the only All-Star to score 30 points on four separate occasions.
Anthony finished the game 8-of-13 from downtown as the two squads combined to shoot 30-of-100 from beyond the arc.
It appeared that the rout was on late in the third quarter when a Kevin Love three-pointer gave the West a 123-105 lead with under five minutes to play in the period. However, the East closed the quarter on an 18-3 run, narrowing the gap to three points heading into crunch time.
Irving came to life in the fourth quarter, scoring or assisting on five of his squad's first six baskets. The Cavaliers superstar was playing with the same fearless mindset he talked about ahead of Sunday's showdown.
"Sunday is the time to put on a show, things you wouldn't do during a normal game," Irving said. "It's a free environment," according to SI.com's Ian Thomsen.
With Irving and Anthony leading the way, the East outscored the West, 15-3, over the final three minutes to secure its first win since 2010.
For his efforts, Irving also earned Twitter MVP honors on Sunday.
Even though the West will be disappointed in its inability to close, first-time participants like Curry will be looking at the result from a different perspective.
With no scuffles, no injuries and zero drama to speak of, this year's NBA All-Star Game was both a success and a failure. The excitement was there, but the buzz is unlikely to last.
Key Player Grades
Kevin Durant, F, Western Conference
2014 MVP favorite Kevin Durant was everywhere on the court on Sunday, knocking down shots from outside and driving to the basket on his way to an impressive 38-point night in the Big Easy.
Durant was one of just three players (Irving, Chris Paul) to record a double-double on Sunday. Unfortunately for the Oklahoma City Thunder forward, his scoring outburst wasn't enough to propel the West to victory.
KD's 27 field-goal attempts were the most of any player.
LeBron James, F, Eastern Conference
Four-time NBA MVP LeBron James was good for 22 points, seven boards and seven assists on Sunday. Still, he struggled with his shot, doing most of his damage on a slew of rim-rocking dunks.
It's also worth noting that LeBron missed all seven of his three-point attempts.
Kyrie Irving, G, Eastern Conference:
MVP winner Kyrie Irving was downright dominant down the stretch, taking it upon himself to lead the East to victory.
While the third-year floor general was able to penetrate and score with ease at times, his vision and precision passing opened up key opportunities for his teammates late in the game. He assisted on the East's final two buckets to help put the game out of reach.
|2014 NBA All-Star Game Player Grades|
|Eastern Conference||Grade||Western Conference||Grade|
|LeBron James, F||B+||Kevin Love, F||B|
|Carmelo Anthony, F||A+||Blake Griffin, F||A+|
|Paul George, F||B||Kevin Durant, F||A+|
|Kyrie Irving, G||A+||Stephen Curry, G||B|
|Dwyane Wade, G||B||James Harden, G||C|
|Paul Millsap, F||B||Anthony Davis, F||A|
|Chris Bosh, C||B||Dirk Nowitzki, F||C|
|Joakim Noah, C||B||LaMarcus Aldridge, F||C|
|Roy Hibbert, C||B||Dwight Howard, C||B|
|John Wall, G||A||Damian Lillard, G||B|
|DeMar DeRozan, G||B||Tony Parker, G||B|
|Joe Johnson, G||B||Chris Paul, G||B|
Sunday's All-Star Game featured a majority of the things NBA fans love to see. Unfortunately, the lack of defense and hustle can make the exhibition matchup a hard sell for some, including USA Today's Bob Velin:
With Adam Silver recently taking over as NBA commissioner, there's the potential for future change. We've already seen the All-Star Saturday Night events undergo significant overhauls in 2014.
Could the All-Star Game be next?
Watching the best athletes on the planet do what they do best is no doubt entertaining. But with nothing more than midseason bragging rights on the line, there appears to be something missing from the NBA's annual star-studded showcase.
Should the NBA adopt what MLB has done and grant the winning conference home-court advantage in the NBA Finals? Or maybe the solution resides in monetary bonuses for the winning squad.
Considering how often the NBA tweaks the rules to the dunk contest, surely it wouldn't be that difficult to raise the stakes of the All-Star Game.
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