Prior to the 2018 NBA All-Star Game, the league made one thing abundantly clear: The game needed to be more competitive. They admitted that there were multiple steps that would need to be taken, and they didn’t know what all of them were. They hoped that abandoning a conference arrangement, and letting players draft their teams would be a good first step.
They were right. Team Stephen and Team LeBron buckled down for one of the closest All-Star Games in recent memory. It was a two-point game at halftime. It was a three-point game heading into the fourth quarter.
And it came down to the final possession, in which Kevin Durant helped lock down Stephen Curry, and secure a 148-145 victory for Team LeBron.
It was a long road to get to the final score. Let’s relive some of the high (and low) moments that got us there.
Pregame: Somebody’s getting fired
The game may have taken place in the living room of the entertainment industry, but it wasn’t Hollywood’s best day.
Kevin Hart attempted to regale the crowd with a skit about wanting to be an NBA All-Star. 10 awkward minutes later, he admitted that he wasn’t an All-Star basketball player, but he was an All-Star comedian. Considering the silence that had fallen upon Staples Center, it was a bold claim.
There was Jamie Foxx, performing an NBA rap song that was somehow Wild West themed. There was Ludacris, rather than one of the myriad LA-based rappers. There was Adam Devine, for reasons unknown.
And there was Fergie. Oh dear, was there unfortunately Fergie.
I won’t make you relive that. Let’s just leave it here:
this is the new american flag pic.twitter.com/grSTVVapwK— Whitney Medworth (@its_whitney) February 19, 2018
If the pregame show got one thing right, it was the introductions, as Hart did make the crowd laugh with some punchlines at every player’s expense.
It won’t take much effort next year for Charlotte to top Los Angeles in the pregame entertainment department, and that’s, uhhh . . . not great, Bob.
First Half: Sloppy and slow
It took a while for the game to get going. The players were playing just hard enough to keep a steady flow of highlight dunks from occurring, but not quite hard enough to actually look serious about it.
No one from either team could shoot, as the teams combined to go 7-31 from deep in the first quarter, and 23-76 at the half.
Klay Thompson, however, didn’t get the memo, and splashed in five triples in the first half, to grab the 15 points that he would end the game with. And Durant treated it like another day at the office, with an efficient 9 first half points en route to a Warriors-high 19 in the game.
Curry came out in the first half with a headband on, and, well, that didn’t work out for him so well, as he shot just 1-9.
By the end of the half, the teams had started to buckle down a little bit. Draymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo - whom Curry admitted was picked largely because he took the game seriously - started playing defense, and both teams were hustling for loose balls, steals, blocks, and rebounds.
And at the half, it was Team Steph with the 78-76 lead.
Halftime: Much better
Between the start of the game and halftime, apparently a new entertainment coordinator was found, as the N.E.R.D. performance was much better than anything in the pregame.
It’s worth noting that the timeout entertainment scored an A+ as well. The highlight came when DJ Khaled was blindfolded and made to believe he was going to be dunked on by a mascot, only for the court to be cleared out so he was left alone on the court, looking silly, to the amusement of all.
Thankfully for him, Draymond was there to come save him and let him know he’d been pranked.
The mascots blindfolded DJ Khaled and pretended they were gonna dunk over him. pic.twitter.com/jWbTXu8VEW— SB Nation (@SBNation) February 19, 2018
Second Half: Things get serious
Curry came out of halftime ready to go. He took the headband off, and promptly got to business.
STEPH CURRY IS EATING POPCORN pic.twitter.com/4SHBszp1Nr— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) February 19, 2018
Oh, sorry, he also got to business on the court:
Curry finished with just 11 points, but his dribbling and passing was on full display all night.
As the game drew closer to a finish, the crowd became more and more engaged. The desire for flashy dunks and lackluster defense had been replaced by a need for competitive basketball and meaningful possessions.
Both teams delivered.
Team Steph and Team LeBron went back and forth, trading buckets in the final minutes as the crowd got louder and louder. The enthusiasm in Staples was palpable; unlike in years past, everyone was suddenly here to see how the game would end.
Team Steph got the ball back with just under 11 seconds to go, trailing by three. With the crowd on their feet and the arena buzzing, Curry got the ball and tried to find space. But Durant and LeBron James weren’t going down without some defense, and trapped Curry in the corner, swarming him like their lives depended on it.
It was fitting. After all the talk about making the game more competitive, and getting players to try harder, the contest came down to a stellar defensive effort. And it truly had a playoff feel.
If you want to blame Houston Rockets and Team Steph coach Mike D’Antoni for once again failing to call a good play in the final moments of a big game, be my guest. I’m not stopping you.
D’Antoni, for his part, did have a hilarious line poking fun at the Warriors and Steve Kerr:
Mike D'Antoni on coaching stars during timeouts: "The Golden State guys kept taking my clipboard. I don't know what that was about."— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) February 19, 2018
After the game, the players reiterated that the game was fun, and competitive.
It was what the fans wanted, and the players made it clear that, despite their half-hearted attempts in past contests, it was what they wanted as well.
The atmosphere was lively, as everyone seemed to have enjoyed the new format, not only for the competitiveness, but for the ability to play against players in their own conference.
I asked Curry what it was like to go up against a player he practices with every day, and he pointed out the respect that comes from going head-to-head with someone:
I asked #StephCurry what it’s like to go up against #KevinDurant in a game after all their practices: “Have appreciation for his talent, and I think he felt the same about me, Klay, and Draymond” pic.twitter.com/kgnLG3WQnt— Golden State of Mind (@unstoppablebaby) February 19, 2018
Curry reiterated that he would love to be an All-Star captain again. It was clear that the process was a breath of fresh air, and welcome change for the league.
The Warriors are off until a Thursday game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Until then, I’d expect that Durant - who made $100,000 for being on the winning side of the game - to be picking up the tabs with his fellow All-Stars.