CHARLOTTE– Russell Westbrook had a wide-open rim in front of him. A sure layup waited just one step away. His teammate Paul George had what these days amounts to a layup too and Westbrook delivered the ball to him. On the right wing, George caught and fired, burying the no-doubt-about-it three-pointer.
Defense wasn’t exactly top priority in the 68th edition of the NBA All-Star Game, but Westbrook and George certainly helped ignite the offensive explosion for Team Giannis in this year’s competition. The game eschewed old versions of the game that pitted Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference and instead appointed captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo to make selections. Westbrook and George ended up on the same squad, but it turned out to be the losing one tonight as Team Giannis fell 178-164 to Team LeBron.
“It's always great to share the court with Russ,” said George. “It's fun that we continue on to be teammates away from our team. So, we had a good weekend.”
“It's great because everybody has a different skill set and a different play style,” added Westbrook. “Not one person on that floor you can compare to another. So it's just great to see everybody come together.”
Team Giannis led the way for the entirety of the first half and most of the third quarter, getting major contributions from Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and George, who scored 11 second quarter points on his way to 20 total points in the game on 7-for-14 shooting, including a 6-of-12 mark from three-point range.
“P did a good job of doing what PG has been doing all year long,” said Westbrook.
Two of those three-pointers came with James Harden squared up across him on defense, and George niftily bounced the ball with hard dribbles between the legs then side stepped for a fall-away three. It was George’s own version of Harden’s move, and it brought ooh’s and ahh’s to the Spectrum Center crowd.
“Hit him with his (stuff),” grinned George. “It's always fun. I had to just give him a little dose of his medicine. I got that in my package too.”
George also showed off his hops with a 360 dunk, and like the legendary Vince Carter did at All-Star Weekend before him, he did it from the clockwise direction, which is typically the reverse of a normal 360. After the game he joked that he’s not an "ambiturner" meaning he can only do a 360 in one direction and not the other.
In the third quarter Team LeBron went on a run behind some up-tempo pace, made three-pointers and finishes at the rim, but Westbrook tried to keep a hold on the lead by continuously attacking downhill. Westbrook scored 8 of his 17 points in the third quarter alone and finished the night with 4 rebounds and 3 assists as well. He also had a few special moments on the floor interacting with fellow All-Stars, like when he lobbed an alley-oop to Blake Griffin and set a screen for Dirk Nowitzki, who competed in his 14th and final All-Star game.
“I finally got loose. It took me a while. I’m getting old, that’s what it is,” the 8-time All-Star Westbrook joked.
In the fourth quarter Team LeBron ran away with it, as three-pointers continued to drop and Kevin Durant finished with the MVP trophy. The Thunder duo didn’t get the result they wanted on the floor, but this night is all about the fun and a celebration of the best and brightest the NBA has to offer. Between Westbrook and George sharing this occasion and the Thunder teammates celebrating Hamidou Diallo’s Slam Dunk Contest win, this has been a wonderful weekend in Charlotte and yet again a highly enjoyable All-Star Weekend for players representing Oklahoma City.
“It was good man, we didn’t win but it was a great experience,” said Westbrook. “It was good to be able to get an opportunity to sit back, represent Oklahoma City and go home with a trophy. Hami won, which is good.”