That was my thought yesterday morning when thinking about today’s game. All-Star Saturday and Sunday are usually two of my favorite days every season. Call me a sucker, but I love the pageantry of the events on Saturday evening and the transition to Sunday where the game’s best players showcase their talent.
This year, I am still excited, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel a bit different. Not only is Kobe out, but the game really is transitioning to the younger generation of players — especially out West where Lillard and Curry are making their first appearances in the game and Aldridge, Anthony Davis, and Kevin Love (who isn’t new to the game, but was named a starter for the first time) are all a new(ish) crop of players who are trying to become mainstays.
The weekend also took on a different feel with the change in formats to Saturday’s events. The night became a battle of the conferences where East vs. West was a more dominant theme than a conversation about 90’s hip-hop. In some cases the events only felt slightly different with little drop off in quality. I thought the Skills Challenge actually was improved with the team format. And while the three point contest could have been a bit better in the early rounds, we still got a good finish with Bradley Beal and Marco Belinelli dueling in the Finals. Beal’s six consecutive makes in that last round to force an “overtime” was great theatre and Belinelli closing the door in that extra frame also gave us a climactic finish.
The dunk contest, however, left a lot to be desired.
I won’t get into all aspects of the contest that I found disappointing, but I did feel especially letdown by how the entire thing ended. After getting through the freestyle rounds, I was actually looking forward to the battle rounds where guys would show off some of their best dunks. And heading into the final battle John Wall got everyone in the arena buzzing with this fantastic throwdown:
But just as quickly as fans were into the event it was over. Wall’s dunk ended up sweeping the battle round in the East’s favor which, due to the format of the competition, ended the night. There would be no dunk off between the night’s best dunkers. No true defense of Terrence Ross’ title. No Paul George vs. John Wall final battle. No anything.
Talk about anticlimactic.
Heading into tonight, then, I just hope that we get a better show. No, Kobe won’t be playing and for some Lakers’ fans that may take some of the luster off this game. As I noted up top, it certainly will be a bit strange without him. But tonight’s contest will still be the best collection of talent seen on a basketball court this year. Not only are they the league’s elite players, some are just coming into their own as stars and will be making what will be their first of many more appearances in this game.
As with any all-star game, one of the things I’m looking forward to most — besides those special singular plays that only these guys can provide — is the individual match ups that have the potential to advance (or in some cases, trigger) a rivalry. So give me some possessions where LeBron and Durant go at each other. Let me see Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving have their moments of going back and forth. I also wouldn’t mind some old school battles in the paint between Roy Hibbert and Dwight Howard.
As always, though, what I truly want is a close game at the end. A five or six point game with under 5 minutes allows the coaches to insert their best players to decide the game. It also turns what is meant to be a fun showcase into a game where each side allows their competitiveness to take over to try and get a win. Guys start playing hard on both ends and we get to see who really can raise their game and stand out amongst the game’s very best. Let’s see Durant hit a dagger jumper with LeBron draped all over him defensively. Let’s see Curry hit a crazy step-back with Paul George extending to try and contest. Let’s see the best players playing their best ball with the game close in the final minutes. That’s not asking too much, is it?