True Hoops

True Hoops

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Not So Random Thoughts from the All-Star Game

Was it me or was the 2012 all-star game in Orlando almost a mirror image of last year's contest? I mean really what was the difference? You had Kobe headlining the show, drama with a superstar on the trading block, Russell Westbrook doing all sorts of crazy things in the air, and Kevin Durant making all sorts of shots. As for the game itself - same thing: The west getting out to a huge lead, leaving LeBron with no choice but to put the East on his back for a comeback - only to fall short at the very end. Well I guess that's a recipe for high ratings, so why switch it up?

Still, greatness is in the details.
So here are some of the things that stood out.......

Kobe Bryant is the all-time scoring leader in all-star history
Wasn't it just the other day that Kobe made his first all-star appearance at Madison Square Garden and stole the show from Michael Jordan? It seemed in that 1998 game as if the coaches deliberately sat Kobe out the second half so he wouldn't steal the MVP from Jordan. Well, 14 years later he finally beat out Jordan.

Kobe scored 27 in the game and for the most part didn't even seem like he was trying. It's incredible how effective he is when he lets the game come to him and plays off/with his teammates. Any chance he does more of that for this stage of his career?

A testament to his longevity and determination - Kobe is one of the best to ever play the game (and he's only 33). But, he certainly wasn't the main attraction at the game......


Take a step back Kobe (pun intended). With the exception of Jeremy Lin, LeBron James is at the center of the NBA universe - and will continue to be so for the next 5-6 years. Therefore, will all the highlights and milestones, any surprise that this game ultimately came down to LeBron?

Wasn't this game in effect a microcosm of his career (or at least critic of his career) thus far? With the East helpless and down 20 in second half, LeBron came to the rescue - scoring 23 of his 36 points (how about 8 points in the 4th quarter!). As he always does, LeBron displayed his overall dominance and ability to single handedly make a team competitive. But then of course, when push came to shove and with a chance to tie or win the game in the final seconds, LeBron was reluctant to shoot the ball in the end and actually committed a costly turnover.

With last year's all-star game and NBA Finals, I would say this is starting to turn into a disturbing trend. Would it be too much to say that that LeBron lost the MVP more so than Durant won it? After all, Durant only had 2 points in the 4th quarter (granted, it was a big bucket). There is no denying that LeBron is the best player in the world. But he will win only as many championships as he wants to. Forget make or miss, just take the shot LeBron - you've earned it!

With that said, Kevin Durant is really not that far behind LeBron. Think about it, he tends to score more and grab as many rebounds per game. The only things he lags in are the play making skills and defense.

But Durant may be a better one on one player.
He certainly came out gunning this game.

And make no mistake, Durant doesn't care how many championships LeBron is supposed to win. He is a capable foe that is more than willing to challenge for league supremacy. What in the world would happen if KD wins a championship before LeBron?

The clock is ticking......

A taste of things to come
Might as well get used to this debate.
Kevin Durant had 36 points, LeBron James had 36 points. The West won, so Durant was MVP.
This is what it's going to come down to for both the regular season and Finals MVP. The two best players on the two best teams. Who ever wins gets the trophy - it's that simple.
It will be curious to see if this becomes a Magic/Bird thing or if one of these guys becomes Jordan and the other Drexler.

Lack of coaching
Despite being the two time scoring champ and leading scorer on the West, KD only took two shots in the 4th quarter! It was amazing to see Durant open on the wing having his hands out calling for the ball only to get looked off. Couldn't Coach Brooks Get the ball to his main man? How about putting him in a pick and roll? Putting him on the block? In an isolation? Something?

The resulting lack of execution down the stretch on the part of the West all-stars was really something to marvel at.  My favorite was the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin pick and roll at the top of the key with under a minute to go that resulted in a double clutch three-pointer from Blake Griffin to beat the shot clock - but not coming close to going in.

It might have been a good idea to get the ball to their team MVP.
If KD thought it was hard getting shots ups playing with Westbrook, try adding Kobe and Chris Paul to the mix.

Athleticism wins out 
But alas, who needs coaching and execution when you have Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin on your team? There were several times down the stretch when the two aforementioned athletic freaks of nature were able to get dunks - either through weakside cuts or a put back off a broken play - to keep the West ahead.

Speaking of that failed pick and roll between Paul and Griffin, seems to have turned out okay for the West:

It pays to be able to fly.
Look! No Hands!

Over coaching
Speaking of not needing coaching, let me ask you a question:
With all dominance that LeBron displayed during the second half of the all-star game, as a coach with your team down 2-3 points, who would you run the final play for?
Deron Williams???
No disrespect to D-Will but what type of coach would make that call?
Oh wait, it was the reigning coach of the year Tom Thibodeau.
Granted, LeBron made a costly turnover all on his own, but how much of that do you think can be attributed to the fact he wasn't in attack mode after that play call? Alright, with 1.1 seconds to go and one more chance to tie game, LeBron's number (being 6-8 from three) would get called this time. Right?
Instead Thibodeau used LeBron as a passer to take the ball out of bounds. I think Kobe Bryant's facial expression and laughter as he looked at LeBron going into that final play perfectly summed up how ridiculous that play call was.

It reminds me of the last play in the movie Hoosiers.
Having the ball with the score tied in the final seconds of the state championship game, coach Gene Hackman brilliantly decides "We're gonna use Jimmy as a decoy" to have someone else take the last shot! After that statement, his whole team looks at him in silence with a mixture disbelief and disappointment. "What's a matter with you guys? " Hackman asks.  Jimmy (the best shooter in the state) then looks him squarely in the eyes and says, referring to the last shot: "I'll make it."
"Alright" Hackman says, "Jimmy you get the ball and take the last shot."
No play. No nothing. Just give the ball to your best player and get out of the way.

Part of the problem is that LeBron didn't look Thibodeau in his eyes and say "I'll make it."
It would have also been nice if Wade looked at Thibodeau with disbelief and disappointment to back up his boy.

Two very dubious play calls, to say the least.

Never do your enemy any favors
Maybe this actually was brilliant coaching.
How so?
Well, it is more than likely the Heat will be playing the Bulls in the eastern conference Finals again this year. And you have to know coach Thibodeau realizes this.
Yes, any sane and well meaning coach should have said to LeBron, "just get the ball and take the last shot." Heck even Kobe, who was playing defense on LeBron, told him to shoot the ball.
But as a coach, why on earth would you want to give confidence to the best player in the world, especially when said best player in the world will surely be the biggest obstacle in getting your team to the Finals?

Could these last two play calls be some sort of physcological warfare that Thibodeau used to plant a seed of doubt into LeBron's head, that he hopes resurfaces come playoff time?


Dwight Howard is an extraordinary defender
This may seem like an obvious statement to make regarding someone who is the three-time (and soon to four-time) reigning defensive player of the year. But really, how many times do you see someone block Andrew Bynum in the post then lock down Kevin Durant and Chris Paul in one on one situations on the perimeter - in the same game? The only other person I can think of that was versitile enough to do that sort of thing was Kevin Garrnett.

Howard is not a super star in the same vein as LeBron, Kobe, Durant, or Wade - but that may be a good thing. He can dominate a game without dominating the ball. Forget shooting and dunking, is there some sort of all-star event to showcase that kind of talent?

Of course, not even the most dominant defender in the game is perfect. Howard couldn't stay in front of  Kobe - but then again, there is a history there.

Additionally, there are some drives to the basket that even he knows not to contest:

Which brings us to......

Russell steals the show
Russell Westbrook is not a secret anymore. My question is, why does he have a personal vendetta against the rim?

Forget getting LeBron into the slam dunk competition to go against Blake Griffin. Let's just roll out the ball and let Westbrook have his own personal dunk contest.

I have a feeling LeBron wouldn't mind watching that. He seemed content to do so during the actual game.

What was better, Russel's dunk or the look of awe on LeBron's face?

LeBron liked it so much, he wanted to get a second look:

Messed around and got a triple double

Dywane Wade was the third person in NBA history to record a triple-double in the all-star game - behind Jordan and LeBron.

Is there anyone in the world better at being the second best player on his team?

As good as the LeBron/Durant Finals match-up will be, how good do you think the Wade/Westbrook match-up will be?

But why was he practicing punches?

All-stars games are not fake
Similar to wrestling, I used to think these games were made-up.
Then I saw Kobe walk off the court with a bloody nose, only to later find out that he suffered a fractured nose and concussion. Essh.

Even all-star celebrity game MVP and actor Kevin Hart was was in disbelief.

Question: What if someone other than Wade had done this?

Another question: How impressive is it that Kobe still played in the clutch?

Everybody loves Melo 
Can you guess who scored the most points in the 4th quarter of the all-star game?
Yes, it was Carmelo Anthony, who had 9 points.
Of course he also took the most shots, going 3-7 from the field.
Don't worry A'mare, it's not just you.

A different Rose
One of the things that stood out the most to me happened during the player introductions of the East starters. Take a look for yourself (go to the 4:45 mark):

Look at Derrick Rose's facial expression - it's as priceless as it is awkward.
Dancing? There's no dancing in all-star games!
Apparently no fun or smiles are allowed either:

Some interesting quotes from around the league this year:
Kobe: "Derrick Rose and Chris paul are the only players in the league that have the same type of focus as me."
Larry Bird: "If you want to win play with Kobe. If you want to have fun, play with LeBron."

Certainly seems that Chicago and Miami are a different breed of teams.
Just like Rose and LeBron are different types of super stars.
Can't wait till they match up again.

Do the right thing
This might be Steve Nash's last all-star game. He is one of the greats and the ultimate professional (although he used to dance at the all-star game as well). This is evidenced by the fact that he will not demand a trade from the Phoenix Suns despite them having a losing record and him having a limited time to win a championship. Shouldn't the Suns (ala what the timberwolves did for Garnnett) trade him to a contender?

It just makes sense. I'm not sure if the Heat or Bulls are options. How about the Thunder, as backup that finishes the game and pushes Westbrook to the two? Or how about the Lakers? Aren't they in desperate need of someone with Nash's talents? How much better would he make that team? How well would he run a pick and roll with Kobe, Gasol, and Bynum?

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