|King James reigned supreme|
|Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty|
HOUSTON, Feb. 19 -- In his pregame speech, East head coach Flip Saunders acknowledged to his team that the All-Star Game was a lot about having fun. But in the fourth quarter, he told them, "You know everyone wants to win."
The Eastern Conference All-Star team shook off a rocky first half to emerge victorious 122-120 Sunday night at the Toyota Center.
LeBron James was named MVP of the contest with a team-high 29 points. The Cleveland Cavaliers star fueled a 41-point third quarter with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
"I wanted to be assertive and try to hit the open shots, and drive to the basket, which I'm always capable of doing," James said. "The MVP was never in my mind. Just winning the ball game was."
The contest looked like a sure-fire West victory with the home team boasting a 70-53 lead at the half. It was a wake-up call for the East, and, using its four members of the Detroit Pistons on the floor at once during several stretches, the Eastern Conference made it a tight game.
"We didn't want to get blown out on national T.V.," James said. "We want to have fun, but we're competitors and our competitive nature kicked in and said let's get some defensive stops and get some easy buckets, and that's what happened.
"To have those four guys out there, all on the same team, it was awesome to see."
East guard Dwyane Wade scored the game-winning basket on a lay-in with 16 seconds left. East center Shaquille O'Neal eluded to a passing of the torch to the younger generation of the NBA.
"LeBron, D-Wade, these guys are the future of the game," O'Neal said. "I am just glad to be able to grow with these guys."
Keeping Their Character
All-Star Games can bring out the individual passion in players as they attempt to shine on basketball's greatest stage, so Saunders sent a loud and clear message to the team.
"Don't play too much out of character," the Pistons coach said. "Do what you do, that's what got you here."
Iverson told the media before tip-off it can be a little strange taking the floor with new teammates.
"You play against these guys all year," Iverson said,"but then you play with them. It feels weird in the beginning but then you get out there and start getting to get into a flow."
|Iverson changed those short-shorts|
|Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty|
Detroit pivot Ben Wallace, who finished with eight rebounds and had two blocks on West forward Pau Gasol in once sequence, was thrilled to share the floor with the other East All-Stars.
"It's just a fun weekend," the East reserve said. "It's a time where you go out there and have a lot of fun playing with all these guys. Usually night in and night out you try to beat these guys. But tonight is the one night you have to sit out there, and enjoy their company, and root for them.
Anything But You're Typical All-Star
Pistons guard Chauncey Billups played a key role in sparking the East offense, pushing the ball and finishing with seven assists.
Only five years ago, Billups wasn't even a starter in Minnesota and had played for four different teams in four seasons. So the nine-year veteran's inclusion in Sunday's NBA All-Star Game represented something much bigger than just playing in a game.
"It's a proud moment for me," said Billups, the third overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. "Of course I always thought I could make it to this point. There were sometimes when it didn't look so good for me but I kept with it, and I stayed in the race.
"I'm definitely especially proud to be here, especially to be here with three other teammates of mine, I'm grateful to be here."
East guard Richard Hamilton, Billups' Pistons teammate, also made the first All-Star appearance of his career, after seven seasons in the NBA. Hamilton had six points and was happy to have Billups was by his side in Houston.
"It means a lot," Hamilton said at All-Star media availability. "Like I said, it wouldn’t feel right if I made the NBA All-Star team and he didn’t and vice versa. I think we came to Detroit with something to prove and I think night in and night out we have to prove that. And to be here in the All-Star game, and still young and still getting better, is a great thing for both of us."
Last year it was the Shaq Shoe Phone in Denver that caught us by surprise. This year, Shaq arrived at the All-Star Game with a shoe … that drove. The remote-control sneaker O'Neal brought to Houston had a set of wheels and red ground-lighting.
Vince Carter could only shake his head in disbelief as Shaq set it up in the locker room before the game. O'Neal first drove through the inside of the arena, then chased Hamilton around with it in the locker room.
The 13-time All-Star later began break-dancing, and at one point, playfully pinned a trainer-buddy between his legs during stretches.
|The latest iteration of the Shaq Shoe|
Gilbert Arenas was the other crack-up of the evening. He gave Iverson a hard time about his tight shorts, singing "Who wears shorts-shorts," a jingle from Nair hair-removal commercials. When Iverson wanted to know why he was the only guy on the team with a pair of size 40s, Arenas told him "you're only 5-11" to which Iverson emphatically replied, "I'm 6-1."
When Iverson finally tried them on, Jermaine O'Neal and Paul Pierce did their best to contain their laughter, but not even their lip-biting could prevent smiles.
Arenas continued to joke about Iverson's shorts during a pre-game photo shoot, to which Iverson good-naturedly responded "I'm sick of him killing me."
Ultimately it was Billups, however, who kept Iverson loose. In his biggest assist of the night, Billups emerged from the bathroom during media availability and tossed Iverson his pair of 42s, the size Iverson wears in Sixers games.
Wade was part of the same draft class as East forward Chris Bosh in 2003, but that didn't stop Wade from giving the first-time All-Star grief about having seniority in the All-Star Game.
"Hey rook, get me one of those Gatorades," Wade ordered. And then trying to think of another task for Bosh, "Anyone need some lotion?"
Bosh was relatively quiet in the locker room while his teammates mingled, but that's no surprise given the Raptors' star low-key personality.
"I really just don’t go into the gym thinking about my status or my stature," Bosh said. "That is one of those things that you might say you want, but once it happens – you can’t stand it."
Following the game, he reflected on the experience.
"It was good, I had a blast," Bosh said. "Got to get some rebounds, get some points, get one assist and enough minutes. It feels good (to be around all these guys). I'm just happy to be here."