Karan Madhok / @hoopistani
They say that the cream of the crop always rises to the top, and there is no better place to see the cream of the NBA than the All Star Game, a collection of the 24 best players in the league facing each other in an entertaining duel for the fans. It is just like any other basketball game, except that the players on the court are the absolute best in the business.
But even amongst the best 24, there are a select few who are the elites, the cherries on top of the cream, the Superstars amongst the All-Stars. When there is so little to differentiate between the good talent at this level, it is the great talent that gets the job done. These might not always be the guys who start games, or who dominate certain stretches in the middle, but they are definitely the ones who are on court at the end, when their every point, every rebound, every assist, every screen, every defensive assignment, and every moment of brilliance can make the difference between a win and a loss.
In the 2012 All Star Game, with only two points separating the West and the East in the final minute, the coaches for both sides chose the crucial lineup of superstars that would help them close this game with a victory. Between the who’s who of the basketball world – LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Deron Williams, and All Star MVP Kevin Durant, it was the stars of the West who had the strongest nerves as they helped their side survive for another victory.
Here’s a short recap of the memorable events from the All Star Weekend in Orlando, including the headline game of stars that went down to the wire.
Rising Stars Challenge
It was a changed format in the Rising Stars Challenge this year: instead of Rookies vs. Sophomores, GMs Shaquille O’ Neal (Shaq) and Charles Barkley (Chuck) got to draft their rosters out of the best available first- and second-year talent in the NBA. While Team Shaq boasted more-hyped talent like Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio, and Jeremy Lin, Team Chuck provided greater balance, with Kyrie Irving, DeMarcus Cousins, and Paul George. It was a highly entertaining matchup where the young bucks brought out their flashy moves, but it was the Cavaliers No. 1 draft pick rookie Kyrie Irving who proved to be the difference. Irving was on fire from the 3-point line, shooting 8-for-8 on his way to scoring 34 points and leading Team Chuck to a 146-133 win. Paul George added 23 points for Barkley’s squad.
Haier Shooting Stars Competition
This event pitted four different mixed teams of three each – featuring a former player, a current player, and a current WNBA player from the same city/region – to compete in a round-the-court shooting competition. Team New York, which featured former Knick great Allan Houston, current starting shooting guard Landry Fields, and the New York Liberty’s Cappie Pondexter, won the contest.
Taco Bell Skills Challenge
The future of the league seems to be shifting more and more into the hands of the smallest guys on the court – the point guards – and the Skills Challenge is a great showcase of the unique and tricky skillset that an ideal point guard is supposed to possess. In a field that also featured Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook, it was the veteran of the group, Tony Parker, who emerged as the winner, finishing with the fastest time to complete this skills and beating Rondo and Williams in the final round.
Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout
A good day to be a forward named Kevin. A competition that is usually associated with smaller sharpshooters, the final of the Three-Point Shootout came between 6-foot-9 Kevin Durant and 6-foot-10 Kevin Love. Durant is better known for his efficiency beyond the three-point line and Love is a versatile scoring threat for Minnestota, best know for his inside scoring and rebounding. But on this night, Love showed that he had a three-point sniper in him too, edging Durant in the final round to win the shootout. The competition lineup also featured Miami’s duo of James Jones and Mario Chalmers, Orlando's Ryan Anderson, and Anthony Morrow, who paid tribute to former New Jersey Nets star Drazen Petrovic by wearing his jersey in the shootout.
Sprite Slam Dunk Contest
The tricks and gimmicks were out in this one – Chase Budinger dunked over P. Diddy and dunked with a blindfold on, Paul George dunked in the dark, and Derrick Williams dunked over a motorcycle. But it was Utah’s Jeremy Evans who took home the prize, after he dunked two balls, one with each hand, at the same time and also paid tribute to Jazz great Karl Malone with a ‘Mailman’ dunk.
All Star Game
The main event of the weekend took place on Sunday night in Orlando. After the pop concerts, player entrances, and flashy lights shows were over, it was time to get down to business. All-Star Games always present an interesting dynamic, where the stars are obviously looking to entertain the legions of their fans worldwide (the game was reportedly shown live in 215 countries!) but, being the tough NBA competitors that they are, they were also looking to steal a victory and thus have bragging rights over the opposing conference. The West led most of the way in the high-scoring game behind Kevin Durant (36 points, 7 rebounds) and Kobe Bryant (27 points). Kobe made history by passing Michael Jordan to become the highest scorer in All-Star Game history. Behind sharpshooting by LeBron James (36 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists) and great overall play by his Heat teammate Dwyane Wade (24 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists), the East made a stunning comeback to make it a two-point game in the last minute. Alas, a mistake by LeBron gave the ball back to the West in the dying seconds and a missed 3-pointer by Wade later ensured that the Western Conference won the game for the second consecutive year. Durant was named MVP, while Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, and Carmelo Anthony had strong showings in a game where the stars really came out to play.
On your TV sets this week – normal action resumes: Wed – Timberwolves @ Clippers, Thu – Bulls @ Spurs, Fri – Thunder @ Magic, Sat – Kings @ Lakers, Sun – Thunder @ Hawks.