Don't expect to see Giannis competing in the Dunk Contest ever again folks.
The 2020 NBA All-Star Game is officially in the books, and the event will never be the same. After an extraordinary weekend of events, the league's superstars saved the best for last. Trailing by nine points after three quarters, Team LeBron fought back to give us the greatest ending in All-Star Game history. The new Elam Ending set the target score at 157, and both sides fought with all they had to get there first. When the dust settled, it was Team LeBron that ended up on top. Here's how it happened.
First quarter: Team LeBron wins 53-41 ($100,000 charity earnings)
After only a single quarter, 94 total points are on the board with Team LeBron leading Team Giannis 53-41. Team LeBron produced the two MVP favorites through one frame, with Kawhi Leonard leading all scorers at 12 points and Anthony Davis in close pursuit with nine playing in front of his hometown Chicago fans. Team Giannis has featured a more balanced attack with nobody topping eight points, but a number of players reaching at least six.
Second quarter: Team Giannis wins 51-30 ($100,000 charity earnings)
Despite trailing by 12 in the overall score after one quarter, Team Giannis stormed back to take a nine-point overall lead by the half with the score at 92-83. Antetokounmpo's dominant quarter has him leading his team with 20 points so far, but it was defense (or, in All-Star parlance, Team LeBron's lack of offense) that truly led to the swing. Rudy Gobert deserves at least a modicum of credit for holding an All-Star team to only 30 points in a quarter. Trae Young closed the frame with a gorgeous halfcourt shot.
Third quarter: The two teams tie, 41-41 ($100,000 rolls over into winner's pot)
For the first time in All-Star history, the resetting score came into effect in the third quarter of this one. It was closely contested throughout, and both Nick Nurse and Frank Vogel called timeouts at the end of the quarter to try to draw up plays to win the frame. Ultimately, neither did. The final points came on an alley-oop to Rudy Gobert that tied it at 41. Russell Westbrook missed a potential quarter-winning shot at the buzzer, so the frame ended in a tie. That means that the charity money designated for it rolls into the pot for the game's winner.
Fourth quarter: Team LeBron wins 33-22, wins game 157-155 ($300,000 charity earnings, $400,000 total)
You may never see a more exciting fourth quarter in any game, and we got it in an All-Star Game. Team LeBron trailed by nine at the start of the quarter, and Team Giannis only needed 24 points to seal the game. But Team LeBron fought back, and the two sides traded leads for much of the quarter. We saw challenges, reviews, and even some extremely late calls. Ultimately, Team LeBron was able to score and Team Giannis could not. LeBron James cut the target score down to only one point with an easy dunk, and then hit Anthony Davis with a pass that earned him a foul. Davis clinched the win at the free-throw line -- on his second attempt -- ending the greatest All-Star Game of all time.
Here are four takeaways from Sunday night's incredible finish:
1. The Elam Ending is an unbridled success
The concept of ending a basketball game without a clock was met with skepticism and confusion when it was announced, but after seeing the Elam Ending in action, it's hard to imagine an All-Star Game without it. Removing the clock and setting a target score prevents any game from ever truly feeling over. Just as Team LeBron proved tonight, so long as a team is willing to keep fighting, no deficit is too great to overcome when the clock is off.
The question now spreads to wider spread adoption. Given the excitement of this year's game, the Elam Ending is an absolute lock to be reused in future All-Star Games. But how far will the NBA take it? Surely the league isn't ready to include it in regulation games … yet. But a potential compromise might involve using it in the G League to work out any potential kinks. It would not be unreasonable to expect smaller high school or even college leagues to consider adopting it as well. With one minor tweak, the NBA turned an event it has considered broken for years into one of the most exciting moments of the season so far. Anything it can do to recapture that magic needs to be considered.
2. The game included many worrying parallels to the real NBA
Usually, taking anything away from an All-Star Game would be foolish. But this one was played at such a high level considering the fourth quarter admissible evidence for or against any number of contenders seems reasonable.
Giannis Antetokounmpo didn't score a single point in the fourth quarter. Milwaukee's ability to score late in close games has been a major concern since the 2019 playoffs, and the Bucks are ranked only 13th in clutch offense this season. Tonight was hardly encouraging for Milwaukee on that front. LeBron James didn't look particularly explosive as a late-game closer either. When Antetokounmpo guarded him, he had a very difficult time generating good looks for himself. The Lakers lack a secondary creator, so a potential postseason matchup with Giannis (or a similarly gifted defender like Kawhi Leonard) looks fairly distressing at the moment. His solution was to switch-hunt Kemba Walker by using Chris Paul as a screener, a problem Boston will have to deal with in the playoffs.
None of this should be considered the be-all or end-all for a team's playoff chances, but none of those teams should feel great after watching Sunday's game either.
3. Chris Paul's still got it
Chris Paul was essentially considered untradable eight months ago. When younger guards like Devin Booker and Ja Morant missed out on All-Star selections initially, Paul was viewed by many as the legacy choice whose spot should have been allocated elsewhere. But when the game got serious, Paul stepped up. It was he who led Team LeBron to a furious double-digit comeback that started in the third quarter. His plus-13 mark was the best plus-minus of any player in the game, and when the time came to decide on closing lineups, it was Paul, not MVP candidate Luka Doncic, that Frank Vogel trusted down the stretch.
Paul made the All-Star team. Obviously the basketball world is aware that he was still quite good. But the entire narrative surrounding him for the past year has focused on his age and contract. He's stranded in the middle of basketball nowhere as a member of the middling Oklahoma City Thunder, and for awhile there, it genuinely appeared as if he might never have another moment of this significance in his NBA career. But at the end of the All-Star Game -- a moment typically reserved for the 10 best players in the NBA -- Paul proved that he could still hang with anyone in basketball. Notably, Russell Westbrook finished the game on the bench for Team LeBron. Just another shred of vindication in what has been an excellent year for Paul.
4. Rudy Gobert was playing defense before it was cool
Yes, the fourth quarter was action-packed and featured playoff-caliber defense for large stretches, but let's take a second to appreciate the player who wanted to be in the All-Star Game most of all. A year ago, the Utah Jazz center broke down into tears over his snub. He finally earned the nod this year, and he made the absolute most of it. He made 10 of his 11 shot attempts, pulled down 11 rebounds, and most amazingly of all, played real defense in the second quarter of an All-Star Game.
It's not a coincidence that the lowest scoring non-Elam Ending quarter of the game for either squad was Team LeBron's 30-point outing in the second. That was when Gobert got most of his playing time. He served as a genuine deterrent at the rim in a game that usually turns into a glorified dunk contest. It was a refreshing change of pace. Gobert finally earned the honor he had waited his entire career to achieve, and when he stepped onto the floor as an All-Star for the first time, he did so entirely as himself.
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