Basketball: Format change produces All-Star thriller

James' side edge out Curry's team by 3pts in the most competitive All-Star Game in years

LOS ANGELES • Following two years of National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star games that set records for points and indifference, this season's edition finally teetered on the edge of being competitive.

There was more effort, more blocks, and a tight finish that brought the crowd to its feet in the final minutes.

Seems like that overhauled format worked, after all. The players seemed to think so, with many of them sauntering into the interview room at Staples Centre after the game to declare the 2018 game a big improvement on years past.

"We wanted to kind of change the narrative of the All-Star Game being a joke," said the Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant, who played for Team LeBron.

"Today we wanted to make it a real basketball game.

"The game was so good, it was so competitive, it was the best one I've played in."

LeBron James going up for a shot after getting past (from left) Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry in Sunday's All-Star Game.
LeBron James going up for a shot after getting past (from left) Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry in Sunday's All-Star Game. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Sunday's contest felt far from last year's All-Star Game, when the two teams combined for 374 points and Stephen Curry lay flat on the court to avoid being victimised by Giannis Antetokounmpo's dunk.

That outcome prompted the NBA to shake up the game's set-up in hopes of making it more purposeful and compelling.

Instead of dividing the players into East and West teams, two captains - LeBron James and Curry - drafted from a pool of players who had been voted as All-Stars.

After the game - a 148-145 victory for Team LeBron, the closest margin since 2012 - Curry said the changes "really just gave us an opportunity to hit the reset button".

  • HEIGHTENING COMPETITION

  • 4x

    The eight blocks in this year's All-Star Game is four times the number registered last year.

  • -81

    Players from both teams scored 81 fewer points than in last year.

The Cleveland Cavaliers' James, named the game's Most Valuable Player, led all scorers with 29 points and also chipped in 10 rebounds and eight assists.

DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors and Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers tied for the lead on Curry's team with 21 points. Curry himself had 11 points, six rebounds and five assists.

In the end, it was the swarming defence of James and Durant that proved decisive in a game of 11 lead changes. With Team Stephen down by three in the final seconds, the duo cornered Golden State's Curry and prevented him from getting a clean look at the basket.

"The new format was great," James said. "The fans did a great job of reacting to it in a very positive way. That draft was something that hadn't been done before, and the great thing about our commissioner is he is absolutely willing to do something new and change the format. It definitely worked out for everybody."

Commissioner Adam Silver said that the change had come after a text exchange with Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul, the president of the players' union.

The game was not all serious, of course. There were still between-the-leg passes, bounce-pass alley-oops and windmill dunks that jolted both benches to their feet. Curry even snacked on popcorn on the bench waiting for the second half to start. But the defences played tough for an All-Star contest.

Boston Celtics' Kyrie Irving, who played on Team LeBron, said he hoped that this game would serve as a building block. "The hope is that it's only going to get better," he said. "This was pretty fun."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2018, with the headline 'Format change produces thriller'. Print Edition | Subscribe