The NBA All-Star Game has been and gone for another year, with Team LeBron defeating Team Durant 170-150 and Giannis Antetokounmpo taking home the Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP award.
But what else did we learn? Well, quite a lot as it happens.
From the moment LeBron James finished selecting his starting five – himself, Stephen Curry, Giannis, Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic – you knew Team Durant would be in a hell of a lot of trouble come All-Star night.
If that wasn’t enough, throw in Damian Lillard as the first name off the bench for good measure.
Sure, there were mitigating circumstances. Kevin Durant had his hands tied with the first pick (Brooklyn Nets team-mate Kyrie Irving) and lost one of his best starters in Joel Embiid due to Covid-19 protocols before the game.
Even so, LeBron’s roster was vastly superior in every way.
It was no surprise then that they won each of the first three quarters during the All-Star Game itself, before beating Team Durant to the target score in the fourth. There was to be no dramatic finish this year.
They were so comfortable in fact, LeBron could even afford to sit himself midway through the second period, essentially becoming a full-time cheerleader for the rest of the contest.
What this all points to is that once LeBron finally does decide to call it a day, a long and fruitful career as the head of one of the league’s 30 front offices awaits him. Not that he plans on retiring anytime soon.
Let’s be honest, he was basically running things in Cleveland as a player/GM as they scrambled to build a contender around him year-after-year anyway. Just don’t be too surprised when he inevitably makes a much better go of it than Michael Jordan.
Steph is the greatest shooter of all time
Look. We knew this beforehand. Well, most of us did. It was never really in question, even if there are a few doubters still scattered around out there.
Curry’s performances in the 3-Point Contest first and then the All-Star Game itself were, in a word, frightening.
Mike Conley ran Curry close – and full credit to him – but once Steph got rolling right off the bat in the first round, the end result of the competition was never in doubt, even it did take him until the final ball to seal it.
Then there was the game itself. How does anyone even begin to explain this kind of ridiculousness?
Damian Lillard’s expression said it all – clearly he wanted to get in on the act himself…
There’s range and then there’s RANGE.
Despite taking ludicrous shots like this with some frequency, Steph is a 43 per cent shooter from deep for his career. For most mortals that would amount to a career-best year, not an average. Given the fact he does it with such reckless shot selection is astounding. But then again, it doesn’t really qualify as reckless for him.
Curry currently sits on 2,664 three-pointers made in the NBA, second all-time behind Ray Allen on 2,973. He should pass Allen and take first place for himself towards the end of the 2021-22 season.
From then on, the record will likely sit with Steph for a very, very long time.
‘Dame Time’ is very real
Back to Dame. As if he wasn’t doing it enough through the regular season, Lillard once again came up huge in the clutch, hitting the walk-off game-winning three for Team LeBron.
When Curry himself is waving goodbye to the other team as soon as the ball gets in your hands, you know you’re a problem.
With the second half of the season still to play and the Portland Trail Blazers lurking at fifth in the West, most Western Conference teams will probably know which team – and which player in particular – they’ll be praying to avoid in the first round of the playoffs.
In case you needed reminding, ‘Dame Time’ has quite a history in the post-season, too.
The COVID protocols worked
While Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid missed the All-Star Game due to Covid-19 tracing protocols – a barber they had been in contact with tested positive for the virus – that was as far as any potential outbreak went.
As reported by Adrian Wojnarowski the day after the event, all players coaches and officials returned negative Covid tests.
Players, coaches and officials COVID test results all returned negative from All-Star Game on Sunday, league spokesman tells ESPN. No on-court infections in Atlanta. Everyone was tested three times in Atlanta, including post-game last night.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 8, 2021
Although there was lengthy debate before All-Star on whether the game should actually go ahead, it does seem as though the league pulled it off while completely minimising the risk of infection for all those taking part. For that at least, the NBA deserves credit.
The big men have skills
The less said about Luka Doncic’s pass attempts and Chris Paul’s lay-up the better (how often are you likely to read that sentence?), but it was both refreshing and entertaining to see two big men duel it out in the All-Star Skills Challenge final.
Both Domantas Sabonis and Nikola Vucevic breezed through their two qualifiers before the final, knocking out favourites Doncic and Paul in the process.
Sabonis then edged it on the three-pointers to claim the trophy after finishing runner-up last year.
We are currently experiencing a golden age of bigs with all the technical ability of guards so it was a fitting result, especially after Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo won the event last year.
Two-time Skills Challenge champion Dwyane Wade could once again only look on in disgust as the smaller guys failed him.
Dunk Contest judging needs to change
It does feel as though Sunday’s Dunk Contest was doomed to fail from the start. The line-up of Obi Toppin, Cassius Stanley and eventual winner Anfernee Simons was underwhelming, whilst cramming the event into half-time made it seem like an afterthought.
Players usually feed off the reaction of the crowd but as there wasn’t one, Toppin, Stanley and Simons avoided any kind of showmanship. It made the contest flat. Sorry Anfernee, trying to kiss the rim just won’t cut it, even if you did win.
But the biggest disappointment was once again the inconsistent judging. Cassius Stanley was given 44 for a first dunk that deserved close to 50. After that, he essentially gave up knowing he wouldn’t make it to the final.
We’re still not over the two robberies committed against Aaron Gordon. The Dunk Contest has a lot to fix but sorting out the inconsistent judging must come first if the competition is to become a true spectacle again.
And finally… Steph and LeBron’s natural chemistry
The two Akron-born superstars, so often adversaries in finals gone by, finally got the chance to play together. And boy, did they put on a show.
You could tell both relished the opportunity, and whether it was LeBron dishing to Steph for a half-court splash or Steph watching from up close as LeBron did his famous chalk toss, it was refreshing to see them both relax and enjoy their natural chemistry together after so many on-court battles.
Let’s just hope that wasn’t the first and last time…