NBA All Star Weekend provided a nice light break mid season, with super stars, rookies, celebrities and even undrafted players taking to the court in Utah for a bunch of games and contests.
The main event was the All Star Game, a game the West has utterly dominated for many years. A result that looked even more assured once Team Giannis captain, erm, Giannis Antetokounmpo confirmed a wrist injury would force him to sit out the game. However, Jayson Tatum had other ideas, to deliver a betting odds upset, in another stupidly high scoring All Star Game.
Team Giannis 184, Team LeBron 175
Head to Head: Team Giannis, odds 2.25 - nice outside odds win
Line: Team Giannis (+3.5), odds 1.90
Total Points: Over (323.5), odds 1.90 - by a long way!
NBA All Star MVP: Jayson Tatum
All Star MVP: Jayson Tatum, odds 10.00
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Jayson Tatum put on a record-setting show, and made Giannis Antetokounmpo look like a genius.
Tatum scored an All-Star Game-record 55 points on his way to winning MVP honors, and Team Giannis ended LeBron James’ hold on All-Star captain supremacy by beating Team LeBron 184-175 in the NBA's annual showcase exhibition on Sunday night.
Tatum had 27 points in the third quarter, another All-Star Game record for any period. He was the first pick by Antetokounmpo in the starters’ portion of the All-Star draft, and in the end, that pick proved to be the right one.
And the MVP award Tatum was given is named for Kobe Bryant, one of his heroes.
“It means the world," Tatum said. “You think of all the legends and great players that have played this game, and in all honesty, records are made to be broken. I'll hold it for as long as I can, but I'm certain someone will come along in a couple years and try to break it."
Tatum broke Anthony Davis’ All-Star record of 52 points. He was 22 of 31 from the floor, plus had 10 rebounds and six assists.
It was James’ first loss in six times as captain. Antetokounmpo improved to 1-2 in his All-Star captaincies, and became the first captain to hoist a new trophy presented to the winners of the All-Star Game.
“Winner, winner, chicken dinner," Antetokounmpo said.
Later, with a more serious tone, Antetokounmpo said he had a reason for choosing Tatum.
“I knew he would take it serious. It was a no-brainer," he said.
Donovan Mitchell added 40 for Team Giannis, which got 26 points from Damian Lillard — including the game-winner to push his team past the target score.
Jaylen Brown scored 35 points and had 14 rebounds for Team LeBron, while Kyrie Irving had 32 points and 15 assists and Joel Embiid finished with 32 points.
Brown and Tatum — Boston teammates — were reveling in a back-and-forth duel during a stretch of the second half.
“It was a normal day for us," Tatum said. “Just millions of people watching."
Lillard, the winner of the 3-point contest on All-Star Saturday Night, made eight 3s — including a halfcourt pullup in the third quarter.
“That was the worst basketball game I've ever seen," Team LeBron coach Michael Malone said, clearly poking fun at the defense-optional event.
Winning coach Joe Mazzulla of Team Giannis said he had a very simple strategy.
“Stay out of the way, enjoy it, have fun, allow the guys to just be themselves," Mazzulla said. “I think it’s important, especially in this league, that guys are just able to be themselves."
The league had a ceremony before the second half to pay tribute to the three leading scorers in NBA history: No. 3 Karl Malone, No. 2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James, now the game’s career leader after he passed Abdul-Jabbar earlier this month.
Malone and Abdul-Jabbar were brought to the stage, and then Dwyane Wade — James’ former teammate in Miami and now a part-owner of the Jazz — introduced James to bring him onto the platform.
“We’ve all been witnesses,” Wade said. “No matter the challenge, no matter the noise, he was relentless.”
With the number 38,388 displayed behind him, James then raised his hand to thank the fans for their ovation, hugged Abdul-Jabbar and Malone. He didn’t return to the game, his night ending with a right hand contusion.
He finished with 13 points, and said a chasedown block in the first half led to him getting a finger caught in the rim.
“Precautionary reasons," James said.
James played a half. The game’s other captain didn’t play a half-minute.
Antetokoumpo drafted his team before the game, went through warmups (such as they were) and started the game as planned.
But his right wrist was wrapped, and that was an ominous sign. The injury kept him out of All-Star Saturday’s skills event, limited him to 20 seconds in this one. He got an uncontested dunk to open the game, then took a foul and headed to the bench.
“Whatever I have, I’m going to give,” Antetokounmpo said. “That’s who I am. That’s never going to change.”
As in past years, the teams played for charity, with Team LeBron raising money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah and Team Giannis for Raise the Future, which connects youth waiting in foster care with stable adults. Each team started with $150,000, with the first three quarters worth another $100,000 apiece and the All-Star Game winner getting another $150,000.
The teams were tied at 46-46 in the first quarter, and Team Giannis took the second quarter 53-46. Team Giannis also won the third quarter 59-49, and the cumulative score to that point — 158-141, Team Giannis — meant 182 would be the score to reach in the untimed fourth quarter with a target-score ending.
Team Giannis won $550,000 for its charity, and Team LeBron won $200,000. And Tatum, just as he vowed he would at his first All-Star Game in 2020 — when the award was named for Bryant — won the trophy that he's wanted for a while.
“Icing on the cake," Tatum said.
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Team Giannis: Antetokounmpo’s two points kept him the all-time All-Star scoring average leader. He’s now averaging 25.1 points in All-Star Games, just ahead of Kevin Durant (25.0). Without that basket, he’d average 24.9. ... Jrue Holiday took Antetokounmpo’s spot in the starting lineup for the second half.
Team LeBron: Denver’s Nikola Jokic, the two-time reigning MVP, became the first player to start an All-Star Game on his birthday; he turned 28 on Sunday. The only other player to appear in an All-Star Game on his birthday, the NBA said, was Larry Nance Sr. in 1989. ... Halftime lasted 42 minutes. ... Paul George started in place of James for the second half.
Last year’s All-Star Game was broadcast in 215 countries; this year, it was shown in 214 countries. The omission was Russia. The NBA isn’t showing its games in Russia and hasn’t for nearly a year. The league suspended its business activities with Russia in March 2022, just days after that country invaded Ukraine.
The officiating crew of John Goble, Mark Lindsay and Michael Smith had the game.
Indianapolis will play host to the next NBA All-Star weekend, set for Feb. 16-18, 2024. The city was supposed to have the 2021 game, but it was moved to Atlanta and considerably scaled down because of the pandemic.
NBA All Star Slam Dunk Contest: Mac McClung
Slam Dunk Contest: Mac McClung, odds 2.50 - betting favourite
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mac McClung might have single-handedly restored the shine on a dunk contest that has been widely panned in recent years.
McClung, the 6-foot-2 Philadelphia guard on a two-way contract, defeated New Orleans' Trey Murphy III in the finals of the dunk contest, culminating an NBA All-Star Saturday that may have finally answered the question as to whether what used to be the league's signature event can be glitzy again.
McClung had the answer: Absolutely.
“I'm truly blessed and grateful for the NBA giving me this opportunity," McClung said.
A 540-degree dunk — not a 360, but a 540, him doing one-and-a-half rotations in the air, a move more reserved for figure skaters and skateboarders than basketball players — was his third perfect score of the night out of four dunks. By the time the judges' scores came up it was already decided. Everyone in the building knew he'd already won.
“It's over," McClung said.
It was. And he immediately committed to defending his title at Indianapolis at All-Star Saturday next year.
“If you guys will have me, I'll be back," McClung said.
The final score, not that it mattered, was McClung 100.0, Murphy 98.0.
His is an unbelievable story: McClung has played mostly in the G League, where he ranks 36th in scoring this season at 19 points per game. He was undrafted in 2021 after spending three college seasons at Georgetown and Texas Tech. He was signed by Golden State last year but never played in a regular-season game for the Warriors, and spent a little time on USA Basketball’s World Cup qualifying team last year as well.
“Ever since the beginning, I was the underdog," said McClung, who put on a Gate City jersey — his high school and hometown in Virginia, population 1,600 — for the final dunk. “Proving others right instead of others wrong brings a little more satisfaction."
Philadelphia would become his third NBA team, and he hasn't even played for the 76ers yet. He played in one game last season for the Chicago Bulls, one other game for the Los Angeles Lakers.
He has three NBA baskets.
He had four dunks on Saturday night. A guy with more dunks than actual NBA field goals might have saved the dunk contest.
“Give this man his flowers, man," TNT commentator Kenny Smith said.
McClung set the tone for the night with a dunk that had NBA superstars in disbelief — he leaped over two people, took the ball out of the hands of one of them, tapped it on the backboard and then threw down a reverse slam.
And that was just for starters.
Riding the momentum of that perfect dunk, he wound up hoisting the trophy that was newly renamed for dunking legend — and former 76ers star — Julius “Dr. J" Erving.
“I'm super happy," McClung said.
McClung was nearly perfect on his second dunk as well; four judges gave him a perfect 50, Lisa Leslie gave him a 49 as the only dissenter, but it didn't matter — he was already assured a spot in the final round against Murphy.
New York's Jericho Sims gave himself a 50 on his second dunk, where he attached an envelope to the net, pulled it down after the dunk and displayed “50" to the world. No judge agreed, and his two-dunk score of 95.4 wasn't good enough to make the final round.
Also eliminated after Round 1: Houston's Kenyon Martin Jr., with a score of 93.2.
NBA All Star 3-Point Contest: Damian Lillard
3-Point Contest: Damian Lillard, odds 5.00 - joint betting favourite, winning pick
Damian Lillard represented his school and his brand, doing them both proud.
Lillard, the Portland star, won the 3-point contest by topping Indiana teammates Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton in the final round.
Lillard wore a Weber State jersey with “Dolla” on the back. Weber State is his college; he performs music under the name Dame D.O.L.L.A. And when he got the trophy, he had a Blazers warmup shirt on for that moment.
“They say the third time’s the charm,” said Lillard, who got his first 3-point title in his third try at the event. “And I’m happy that it happened here. It’s a perfect situation. I’m happy that I did it in my home, coming back here to Utah.”
Lillard won the final round with 26 points. Hield had 25 and Haliburton scored 17.
Lillard played his college games in Ogden, Utah, about a half-hour outside of Salt Lake City. And the historic ramification of finally getting a 3-point title wasn’t lost on him.
“The best shooters in the history of our game, most of them have one of these,” Lillard said as he held the trophy. “I just wanted to get it done at least one time. And now I have it, so I can retire from it.”
Haliburton won the first round with 31 points. Lillard had 26, and Hield had 23.
Eliminated in the first round were Boston’s Jayson Tatum, Utah’s Lauri Markkanen, Miami’s Tyler Herro, New York’s Julius Randle and Sacramento’s Kevin Huerter.
NBA All Star Skills Challenge: The Jazz
Skills Challenge: The Jazz, odds 1.90 - joint betting favourite, winning pick
Utah got a win to open All-Star Saturday night.
The Jazz — a roster composed of Utah players Jordan Clarkson, Walker Kessler and Collin Sexton — won the Skills Challenge on Saturday night, prevailing in two of the three competitions.
“It feels good, especially to do it in front of the home team,” Sexton said.
The Rooks were second, with Orlando’s Paolo Banchero, Detroit’s Jaden Ivey and Houston’s Jabari Smith Jr. getting 100 points.
“I had a lot of fun just doing that even though we took the L," said Banchero, who was part of the winning squad in Friday's Rising Stars games. “It was really fun getting out there in front of the fans. Skills Challenge, watched that all the time growing up during All-Star Weekend. So being a part of it was great."
The Antetokounmpos were third, with Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Alex Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday — a fill-in for injured Milwaukee Bucks teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo — getting shut out.
The Rooks won the team relay for 100 points, after having the best time on a course where teams had to complete a 35-foot outlet pass, do downcourt dribbling, a short jumper, a left corner 3-pointer and then a dunk at the other end.
Next up was the team passing event, won by the Jazz — giving them 100 points — after they were the most accurate in a series of 35-foot outlet passes, 20-foot bounce passes and 25-foot chest passes.
It ended with the Team Shooting event — worth 200 points — with the Jazz prevailing there to clinch the win.
“We did it for Utah, man,” Clarkson said.
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By Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press and DJ Arthurs | 02/20/23
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