NBA All-Star Game 2018: The new format worked, and it can keep getting better

With apologies to LeBron James, the real MVP of Sunday's NBA All-Star Game was Chris Paul. The Houston Rockets guard, snubbed from the festivities because of 18 missed games and the fact he doesn't play in the Eastern Conference, planted the seeds for a more competitive showcase the day after last year's 192-182 "game" by telling commissioner Adam Silver that something had to be done. The league changed the format this season, instituting the first All-Star draft, and everybody involved knew that there had to be at least some semblance of defense. 

It worked: While Team LeBron's 148-145 victory over Team Stephen could not have been confused for a playoff game, it was not embarrassing, either. (The embarrassing stuff took place before tipoff.)

The first quarter was weird, considering what the All-Star Game had become in the past few seasons. Players deflected lob passes, contested shots at the rim and fouled drivers. There were still a bunch of highlight plays, but they had to be earned. It was all actually a bit ugly at the beginning, as the teams had to feel each other out in terms of how hard they were going to play. 

They eventually settled on what should be described as a semi-serious pickup game. James' off-the-bounce alley-oop to Anthony Davis felt at home, but some pressure defense on the perimeter did, too. Team LeBron coach Dwane Casey even told TNT's Kristen Ledlow at halftime that his team had to cut down on its turnovers, and a mic'd up segment showed Kyle Lowry telling his team how much he wanted to win during a timeout in the second half. 

Naturally, the fourth quarter was more intense than the first. James tied the game 144-144 with a step-back 3 over Joel Embiid with less than two minutes left, and there was genuine tension. Hilariously and dramatically, the next possession featured a replay review on an out-of-bounds call. The ruling was controversial, with James unsuccessfully pleading his case to the referees. 

Several players hit the floor in the final minute. It all came down to the final possession, on which Team Stephen could not even get a shot off against Team LeBron's trapping defense. Everybody clearly cared.

"I think myself and Steph, we took it upon ourselves when we decided to do this format, that we had to change the landscape of how the All-Star Game is played," James told TNT's Ernie Johnson with a raspy voice upon accepting his MVP award. "The last couple years, it wasn't as competitive as we would like, so, as you can hear my voice, that tells how competitive it was. And it was great for both sides." 

When it comes to a midseason exhibition game where the participants mostly want to have fun and avoid injury, you cannot ask for much more. But let's ask for more anyway. There are a few obvious improvements that can be made:

  • Televise the draft, obviously. There was no good reason for this year's secrecy, and Silver has all but confirmed things will change next time. It remains mystifying that the league got in its own way with this one. 
  • Hold the draft closer to the game to minimize the injury effect. It was extremely weird -- and unforeseeable -- that Team LeBron had four injuries in between the draft and All-Star weekend, but it was also avoidable. Doing it later might make the league's jersey-selling window a little smaller, but it makes sense. (TNT's Chris Webber said he wants it to happen on the night of the game. That would be awesome, but even if it was a week or two beforehand, it would help.)
  • Eliminate conferences altogether. Life has been hard for fringe All-Star players in the West for quite some time, and the voting process really didn't need to stick to the East-West script with this new format. Let's just get the 24 best players on the court. (Silver addressed this at All-Star weekend, too, and did not sound completely opposed to it.)

The cool part about this conversation is that it really feels like these changes might be made with Silver in charge. He has shown that the NBA is open to tinkering with this product, the players were committed to getting it on the right track, too. Happily, this paid off with an honest-to-goodness exciting finish in Los Angeles. Now that this new precedent has been set, the All-Star Game should only get better. 

CBS Sports Writer

James Herbert is somewhat fond of basketball, feature writing and understatements. A former season-ticket holder for the expansion Toronto Raptors, Herbert does not think the NBA was better back in the... Full Bio

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