West beats East as NBA gives Kobe Bryant an All-Star send-off
TORONTO — The hypnotic mix of oops and three-balls that bookended Sunday night’s big Sting concert has come to a close. Kobe Bryant walked off a winner, Paul George set one record but missed out on another and a certain totally unsurprising Western Conference point guard won MVP, though maybe not the one you’re thinking of. No more spoilers: here’s how the Western Conference’s 196–173 win went down.
• Rank the following ways in which Kobe showed his age. 1. Acknowledging the fans after two tribute montages, two standing ovations and on-screen player testimonials to his greatness, his parting words were simple: “I gotta go get loose.” 2. His first made field goal rolled around the rim roughly four times before dropping. 3. His second made field goal, a three, bounced upward off back-rim and back in (it’s all about the English and the wrist). 4. He airballed a baseline sky hook in the third quarter. 5. As he was introduced, Bryant did not acknowledge Drake, also standing on stage, whatsoever.
• Also not dapping up Drake was Russell Westbrook, who was … dancing instead. He proceeded to dunk, unencumbered, on the game’s first play (instead of, you know, passing it to Kobe). A minute or so later, he tried an alley-oop-to-self-off-backboard, in traffic, and coaxed out audible gasps despite missing wildly. Russ is wired to play the heel at all times and it’s become weirdly endearing, because when he gets it at the top of the key and starts to rev his engines you pretty much know exactly what happens next even in a game that matters not-so-much.
• Things that happened in the first half: Chris Paul lip-synced Adele’s “Hello” in a scoreboard bit, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined on two alley-oops and 182 total points marked a record. Other than Paul George sniffing out 16 points for himself with no assists and the distinct possibility of Westbrook stat-hogging hard for a second straight MVP, it was very tough to pick out a front-runner for the award. Hold that thought …
• Things that happened at halftime: Sting. Things that didn’t happen at halftime: Drake. Things I wish happened at halftime: Future performing a somber, downtempo autotune cover of “Message in a Bottle.”
Photos: Best shoes from 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend
• The third quarter opened with, predictably, Stephen Curry starting to care. He hit a three, whipped a behind the back pass from the paint to a wide-open Kawhi Leonard (he missed), hit another three and put everyone on notice with a really, really deep three from near half-court (he missed). A minute or two later, he dunked. Then … Westbrook started gunning again.
• Lost in all that was after three quarters, Paul George was just 10 points short of the scoring record (42). He finished with an All-Star Game-record nine threes, but was exasperatingly left with 41 as time expired. And as that time was expiring, George watched Curry drain a half-court three as the entire arena egged him on, for arguably the most memorable non-Kobe moment of the night. This is Stephen Curry’s 2016.
But, unsurprisingly, Westbrook went back-to-back with another MVP award after posting 31 points, eight rebounds, five assists, five steals and seven made threes after a hot second half. The 196–173 score set a record for total points in an All-Star game (369) as well as points by one team.
Sometimes these games move so fluidly that you have to look up to realize things like Chris Paul’s 16 assists, that the only two blocks belonged to Carmelo Anthony and Kyle Lowry, that Andre Drummond didn’t have to shoot free throws and that there were 139 three-pointers attempted in the game.
And finally, Michael Jordan took center court during a fourth-quarter timeout so the league could remind us that next year’s game will be played in (hopefully balmy) Charlotte. And as a mostly memorable weekend wound down, MJ shed no tears.