The 2018 All-Star game got off to a rocky start but ended with a bang.
The overproduced pregame show that featured 45 minutes of Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle was stale. Fergie’s national anthem was an abomination and the first quarter saw some defense but also poor offense as Team Steph and Team LeBron both shot under 50 percent from the field. Players from both teams looked winded at the first timeout.
Down 13, with 6:57 remaining in the fourth quarter, LeBron James and his squad could have coasted into Sunday night’s hottest after-party and readied their bodies for the final two months of the regular season. But James, who took home Most Valuable Player honors, Rusell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Paul George stormed back to win 148-145. The last seven minutes were intense on both ends of the floor with feverish defensive possessions — like the game’s final sequence where James and his first overall pick Durant trapped Stephen Curry in front of his own bench to clinch the win.
In the final two minutes, referees went to the monitor to review an out-of-bounds call — an All-Star game first. Both Team Steph coach Mike D’Antoni and Team LeBron coach Dwane Casey burned timeouts in the final minute and got out their whiteboards to draw up plays with the game hanging in the balance. After the victory, James and his teammates celebrated like they had just won a playoff series.
Most of all, the All-Star game was competitive down the stretch and made up for Saturday night’s skills challenge, three-point shootout and dunk contest that had its moments but will largely be forgotten, save for Donovan Mitchell’s rising star. Sunday night’s weekend finale lived up to the hype.
The narrative that the exhibition had 48 minutes of defense and was competitive from the opening tip isn’t true. There were vintage All-Star game-type plays like James’ bounce pass alley-oop to Anthony Davis in the first quarter. In the third quarter, Curry was eating popcorn on the bench. For most of the game, the crowd seemed silent. Victor Oladipo threw down a dunk-contest worthy slam in the second half and Curry still launched threes from just inside the midcourt line like in years past.
With under seven minutes to go and Team LeBron trailing by double-figures, the night was nearly a disaster. A blowout would have dramatically changed the game’s tenor. Team LeBron’s comeback saved the night and the weekend.
The All-Star game is still an exhibition and for those hoping for 48 minutes of playoff basketball, it will never happen. The weekend’s laid-back vibe and Saturday’s All-Star practice which dissolved into a half-court shooting contest set the tone for the night. But there were 24 fouls called in this year’s game — up from 16 in 2017.
This season’s edition of the All-Star game was a step in the right direction. A televised draft a day or two beforehand would add intrigue and more spirited play. If the league listens to its fans and players like it has done in the past, next year’s draft will be televised.
There were also heightened financial incentives on the line Sunday. Players on the winning team reportedly pocketed a cool $100,000 — a 50 percent bump up from last year’s purse. Players on the losing team each took home $25,000. Some players said the increase in pay would add to the competitiveness of the game.
With a spirited final few minutes, All-Star 2018 ended on a high note after a disaster of a start. It wasn’t a perfect 48 minutes but it’s likely the best the game has to offer.