In a highly entertaining all-star game debuting new rules and scoring format, Team LeBron knocked off Team Giannis 157-155 on an Anthony Davis game winning free throw. Kawhi Leonard, who took home the Kobe Bryant MVP award, led all scorers with 30 points on 8-of-14 shooting from behind the arc, while Chris Paul and LeBron James each scored 23 points for Team LeBron. Giannis Antetekounmpo paced his team with 25 points and 11 rebounds and was followed behind by Kemba Walker’s 23 and Joel Embiid’s 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Luka Doncic got the start in his first NBA All-Star appearance for Team LeBron along with captain James, Leonard, Davis, and James Harden. Team Giannis was led by captain Antetekounmpo, Pascal Siakam, Embiid, Walker and Trae Young.
Doncic made his mark in his eight first quarter minutes where he scored two points, dished three assists and had one rebound. His first all-star contribution was a beautiful outlet pass to his idol James:
And his first all-star points came on a baseline dunk that looked eerily similar to his Rising Stars throw down:
With the all-star reserves taking the floor, the game turned into an exhilarating dunk fest, but Team LeBron was able to win the quarter 53-41 behind Kawhi Leonard’s 12 points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting from three which awared $100,000 to Chicago Scholars as a part of the new all-star game rules.
The new rules additionally reset the score at 0-0, so Team Giannis received a chance for redemption, and the captain took full advantage scoring 20 points in the second first quarter (?) on an array of dunks off several offensive rebounds, feeds from teammates and isolation buckets. This frame was mostly all Team Giannis except for the moment Chris Paul finished an alley-oop in the most shocking play in the history of the all-star game:
And after being on the wrong end of a half-court heave Friday night in the Rising Stars game, Trae Young returned the favor and buried one right at the half-court line in the proximity of Doncic to send Team Giannis into a frenzy and award the After School Matters charity $100,000:
Team Giannis won the quarter 51-30 and took a 92-83 lead after the two combined periods.
Similar to the second frame, Team Giannis raced out to a lead as Team LeBron clanked threes and couldn’t finish around the limbs of Antentekounmpo, Joel Embiid and Bam Adebayo all sharing the floor. For Mavericks fans - we are called Mavs Moneyball after all, Doncic finally showed signs of life burying two consecutive threes midway through the quarter:
The Team LeBron reserves were able to put pressure on their Team Giannis counterparts thanks in part to this gorgeous steal, scoop and assist by Jayson Tatum:
What a pass by Jayson Tatum pic.twitter.com/mTwvVHwqWL— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) February 17, 2020
With the third frame drawing to a close, Team LeBron appeared poised to come out on top after a Nikola Jokic three, but Trae Young’as assist to Rudy Gobert tied it up 41-41 carrying over the $100,000 purse to the final quarter.
With the target score set at 157, the benefits of the new format were apparent in the fourth quarter as the defense was cranked to a notch we haven’t seen in an all-star game. Antetekounmpo was locked in defensively and Kyle Lowry even tried to take charges on several occasions, and successfully took one on James Harden that nullified a game-winning triple! The last handful of (real life) minutes was highly entertaining basketball as the best players in the world were locked in genuinely trying to help their team to victory.
The final few minutes certainly showed some flaws in the new format. The game certainly shouldn’t end in on a shooting foul, and the league needs to trim some challenges, foul calls and any other scenarios that extend the game. But all in all, the game provided superior entertainment, and Team LeBron won $400,000 to Chicago Scholars and Team Giannis won $100,000 to After School Matters.
With such a fun game to watch, here are only two things I wanted to note:
The new format works
I, like others, was skeptical at first. It seemed like the NBA was doing a little too much for a game that was all about fun and camaraderie. But it was clear as the first quarter was ending that this change was good. Members of James’ charity of choice, Chicago Scholars, were on their feet hollering for every Team LeBron bucket and the energy was palpable. The same could be said of the After School Matters with Team Giannis closed in on a second frame victory.
The intensity in the fourth quarter was as entertaining as we’ve seen, and it was a lot of fun. Players protected the rim, Lowry took a charge and teams hustled back on defense - all things that were missing in past exhibitions. And the best part was someone had to hit a game winner with both teams trying to hit a target score. It was like pickup basketball at the rec center on steriods. The game even resulted in a “next basket wins” situation with the score at 156-155 before Well done, NBA.
Doncic curiously sat in the final quarter
The entire Team LeBron starters played the last quarter, except Doncic who sat in favor of Chris Paul. That somewhat checks out since Paul was excellent and possibly playing in his final all-star game, scoring 23 points with seven assists while connecting on 7-of-11 from three, but one could question why James Harden played over Doncic who contributed only 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting and passed up a wide open layup that would have won the game much earlier for Team LeBron. Overall, the Mavericks superstar played okay. He had a few nice plays in the first quarter and two threes later in the game which gave him eight points and four assists for the night. Luckily, Doncic should be a regular attendee to future all-star games, so he’ll get his chance to lead his team to victory.