Kevin Durant finished with a game-high 30 points. (Eric Gay/Pool/Getty Images)
By Rob Mahoney
The headlining event of NBA All-Star weekend didn't disappoint, as performers on both sides of the conference divide made the event well worth our time. Here are a few takeaways from that technically meaningless game, which the West won, 143-138:
• It's fascinating -- and fun -- to see Kevin Durant work in the background. KD didn't lead the West in highlight-reel sequences (that honor belongs to Blake Griffin), wasn't the best player on the floor (holy cow, Chris Paul) and didn't score in a concentrated enough burst for his performance to really resonate. But Durant poured in points almost effortlessly, to the point where his game-high 30 was oddly quiet. The game's frequent fast breaks afforded Durant a chance to give his showing some emphatic punctuation (see the dunk above), but even the occasional stretching, one-handed slam didn't elevate Durant's work to the forefront.
Durant's smooth style has helped him tally massive point totals beneath the radar in the past, but his all-around game has improved so much this season that his performances are rarely this understated. That's why it was nice to get a throwback performance of sorts from Durant; rather than assume creative duties on a team with so many talented ball-handlers, Durant just let the game -- and wide-open shots -- come to him. Really, no player in the All-Star Game was better equipped to take advantage of the opportunities presented. I don't find anything at all wrong with Durant working off of Westbrook in Oklahoma City, but there's a particular joy in seeing his work facilitated by so many other shot creators working in impromptu harmony.
• Kyrie Irving isn't "breaking out" -- he's been one of the best offensive players in the league all season. Many will undoubtedly claim that this year's All-Star Weekend was effectively Kyrie Irving's coming-out party, and for many that may be the case. Yet for anyone who has paid any attention to the Cavs over the last two seasons, this is hardly news; Irving has had a phenomenal start to his career despite carrying some barren teams, and has already risen to the league's elite in terms of off-the-dribble scoring and late-game performance. As Brandon Knight showed in Friday's Rising Stars Challenge, it's just too damn hard to stay in front of Irving. He knows just how to lull a defender into a position of disadvantage before using his handle to break open the play, and he has a great feel for execution both within particular sets and in a more spontaneous setting. He turned the Rising Stars Challenge into his playground, edged out Matt Bonner with blistering shooting in the Three-Point Shootout and stepped up to play with the NBA's finest, tallying 15 points and four assists as the East's most-played reserve. That's a hell of a weekend to be sure, but hardly surprising given the way that Irving has played all year.
• As entertaining as this game may be, the flash and flair bear a reminder of what we're missing. Both teams maintained a pretty decent effort level throughout this game, and I have no complaints whatsoever when it comes to Sunday's raw entertainment value. Yet games like these -- with no help defense, limited structure and so little coordination -- serve as a reminder of how much nuance there is to even regular season basketball. A pure exhibition like this one just can't measure up to the standard NBA game, in which every contest is armed with context and continuity.