The All-Star Game has been a big problem for the NBA. Despite the major star power, the game has failed to captivate its audiences. There simply hasn’t been anything at stake for the players when they take the court. The big draw of the weekend has remained the Slam Dunk Contest, and with the emergence of stars like Steph Curry the Three Point Contest has also surpassed the Sunday night game in popularity.
For the last decade or so, great defenses have been hard to come by in the NBA. The last time a team executed its defensive abilities en route to a championship was the ‘08 Boston Celtics. While the NBA saw defensive schemes wane over the years, the ASG saw a far more drastic drop off. The six highest scoring ASGs have come in six of the last seven years, including last night’s game.
Despite the high score, a defensive presence was felt last night that has been missing for so many years. The new format of the ASG isolated each of the four quarters from the other, creating four independently played mini-games. The first three quarters had the same defense-lacking style of play that has hindered the ASG. But holy cow was the fourth quarter a wild ride.
The first three quarters ended after 12 minutes with the higher scoring team crowned as the winner. The team to win each of the first three quarters donated $100,000 dollars for their team’s charity; the team to win at the end of the fourth quarter donated an additional $200,000 -- a nice, feel good element added to the game. In a nice twist the third quarter ended in a tie, meaning the team to win the fourth quarter battle would donate $300,000.
The fourth quarter featured a different format. At the start of the fourth quarter, Team Giannis held a 133-124 aggregate lead over Team LeBron. 24 points were added to Team Giannis’ final score to set 157 as the target score. Whichever team reached the mark first, won the night. From the start, everyone watching knew they were in for a treat. LeBron and his squad were able to overcome the deficit and won when Anthony Davis scored the 157th point on a free throw.
Instead of a typical 48-minute game, this new layout allowed the all-stars to make their showy plays through the first three quarters. But when the fourth quarter arrived, a switch went off. There was a defensive level of play that rivaled what we normally see in a playoff game. Even guys like James Harden who is infamous for his utter dearth of defense was on his game on the defensive side of the court.
Undeniably, an added energy was present because of the recent loss of Kobe Bryant. Kobe’s unexpected death was only a month ago, and there’s no telling when the world will truly be done mourning. Players and fans alike were looking forward to this fourth quarter of playing to a 24-point score as a tribute to the number Kobe wore for half his career. With the MVP award for the game newly named after Kobe, everyone was playing at their best to win the first Kobe Bryant ASG MVP.
This fourth quarter proved to be some of the most exciting basketball play I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. It was the first time in my lifetime when I tuned into an All-Star Game and I was truly glued to the TV; I could not look away. Even in years to come, when more and more time has passed since the loss of Kobe, I am sure future all-stars will play with the same passion in the fourth quarter the all-stars played with this year. Let me offer a genuine congratulations to the NBA for saving the All-Star Game. We’re already looking forward to next year.
Jacob Recht is a producer for ESPN Pittsburgh and Steelers Nation Radio. You can follow him on Twitter @jakeyrecht
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)