A terrific NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto concluded with the league’s 65th annual All-Star Game at the Air Canada Centre, and it was a lot of fun. Assuming, you know, you like fun and dunks and scoring and Kobe Bryant and don’t feel the need to evaluate what has never been presented as anything but a fun showcase for fans and players and celebrities as some sort of referendum on the NBA.
It was exactly what was expected. Defense was set aside in favor of outlet passes and open threes and alley-oops and ferocious dunks, and the world’s most social-ready sport provided a veritable buffet of Vines. It also provided Guy Fieri, Kevin Hart, Drake, inflatable mascots, NBA players lip-syncing Canadian pop songs, and, of course, Sting as a halftime performer (which wasn’t bad at all but remains a ludicrously curious decision).
Toronto, right here. pic.twitter.com/sceDEMJglL
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) February 15, 2016
The night opened with Ne-Yo and Nelly Furtado trading national anthems before giving way to Drake for a quick emcee message (and a phenomenal Farewell Mamba jacket) and player introductions. Hometown starter Kyle Lowry blew the roof off the ACC to follow a solid DeMar DeRozan ovation, but the arena really got bumping for a Kobe Bryant tribute video. And then a tribute to Bryant from Magic Johnson. And then another Bryant tribute video. Finally, Bryant took the mic to thank the NBA’s fans, and it was all a touching and well-deserved moment.
From there, the game followed the regular format. Russell Westbrook threw down dunks and hit threes. Steph Curry hit threes and threw down dunks. Bryant went into “Facilitator Kobe” mode, threatening a triple-double pace early. Anthony Davis dunked absolutely everything. Paul George couldn’t miss.
The Raptors showed well, too. DeRozan went 4-of-7 in the first half with three dunks, one of them a ridiculous 360. He added another great open-court dunk in the third quarter, followed by a degree-of-difficulty up-and-under plus the foul. He finished with 18 points, almost all of them on dunks. Lowry, meanwhile, ended an all-offense first half by blocking a Westbrook triple, tried to sneak for his patented lurking offensive rebounds, and hit triples in triplicate for an 11-point first half. He’d wind up with 14 points, five rebounds, and 10 assists. The league’s second-best backcourt represented at home, from the moment they fired up the crowd pre-game until they shared the court as the East tried to make an impossible comeback late.
— Faizal Khamisa (@SNFaizalKhamisa) February 15, 2016
As is often the case in All-Star Games, it was a free-flowing, low-involvement affair until the fourth quarter. With the West leading 145-136 entering the final frame, the East saw fit to…wait, lay down? Yes, the East came out flat, eschewing the normal “early fourth surge to make this a game” and seeing the deficit grow to 23.
At least DeRozan was around for a fifth dunk. And then a sixth dunk, from Lowry. Seriously, DeRozan owned his home airspace.
And they got my man Jordan Kilganon, a ridiculous pro dunker from Sudbury, involved at a break in play for some seriously insane dunks.
This guy can dunk! pic.twitter.com/q5s7lQuofJ
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) February 15, 2016
Bryant checked back in late, too, giving him five minutes to pad his all-time All-Star stats. He finished the game with 10 points, six rebounds, and seven assists, even passing up a late put-back opportunity to dish to Kevin Durant. With 1:06 to play, Bryant checked out of his 18th All-Star Game. He hugged every player on his way out as he was showered with chants of “Ko-Be.”
And then Curry somehow topped that ovation by hitting a half-court three to end the game and lock up the West’s 196-173 victory.
Westrbook wounds up overshadowing Bryant some, too, earning MVP honors for the second year in a row with 31 points, eight rebounds, and five assists. George had a game-high 41 points – one shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time record, a mark he missed as the West loaded up on him late – but you can’t get the MVP award in a 23-point loss. Westbrook’s side won, and he was probably the most fun player on the floor, because that’s what happens when you let Westbrook be Westbrook.
The game was what it always was. It was silly. It was fun. It was a great way to cap off an incredible All-Star Weekend.