Kyle Lowry personified the 2020 NBA All-Star Game's competitiveness one charge at a time
Setting the tone for Team Giannis, the Raptors' six-time All-Star treated the showcase like a regular game
CHICAGO -- Unlike most iterations of the NBA's biggest showcase, the 2020 All-Star Game actually showcased what people love about the league. There were plenty of highlights on Sunday at the United Center, but there was also genuine competitiveness. Players tried on defense and complained about foul calls. Coaches targeted weaker defenders and used their challenges.
"We were trying to come out, set the tone, play hard," Giannis Antetokounmpo said. "Especially in the fourth quarter, the defense got tighter. Guys were hitting one another. Every possession counts. We had a little bit of playoff intensity out there. So I loved it."
Team Giannis lost 157-155 to Team LeBron, but the outcome felt far less significant than the fact that Antetokounmpo was just one of numerous participants to compare the late-game atmosphere to that of a playoff game.
"The end was amazing," Team Giannis coach Nick Nurse said. "I think everybody in the whole place was on their feet watching each possession, and they were really going at it. I mean, defensively it was hard to get anything -- or offensively it was hard to get anything started. Even first passes were being denied. It felt like the end of a playoff game, which was really cool, I thought."
Creative coach that he is, Nurse even ran a zone in the fourth quarter. Pascal Siakam, who normally plays for Nurse with the Toronto Raptors but spent the weekend with him on Team Giannis, said the staff was locked in. Competitiveness was "all we spoke about in the huddles," according to Kemba Walker.
"Everyone was serious," Siakam said. "We were trying to get a win. Everyone got their game face on. Not that we didn't have that at the beginning, but it was playoff time."
Anthony Davis, who hit the game-winning free throw, also said it felt like a postseason game down the stretch. This is a clear victory for the Elam Ending, which replaces the running clock with a target score in order to add excitement and cut down on stoppages and shenanigans.
The format, however, is only as compelling as the people playing in the game allow it to be. And no one personified the energy in the arena better than Kyle Lowry.
Alvin Williams has known Lowry since the six-time All-Star was only 17. The two are Philadelphia natives, Villanova alums and hard-nosed point guards who happened to play the bulk of their respective careers in Toronto. Williams was in the building on Sunday, working as an analyst for Sportsnet, and he saw the Lowry he's used to seeing.
"Same old thing, man," Williams told CBS Sports. "It's just, you know, you're surprised to see it in an All-Star Game."
Lowry's 13 points, eight assists, five rebounds and three steals were unsurprisingly not enough to get him a single MVP vote -- that honor went to his former teammate Kawhi Leonard -- but, just like in any random Raptors game, he was constantly doing the little things. Late in the third quarter, Lowry executed a 2-for-1 to get an extra possession, a particularly consequential decision because of the league's other All-Star Game tweak: The winner of each individual period earned $100,000 to be donated to a charity.
In the untimed fourth quarter, Lowry got into a defensive stance as James Harden brought the ball across halfcourt. The bearded maestro isolated, as he so often does, and hit Lowry with a right-to-left crossover, as he so often does. Harden dipped his right shoulder into Lowry, who took the hit square in the chest and fell to the floor. The whistle blew just before Harden released a shot from behind the 3-point line. Charge.
Harden's 3 went in, but didn't count. If it had, it would have given Team LeBron 157 points and ended the game. Since Team LeBron went on to win anyway, you could dismiss the charge as irrelevant … if it were not the second one Lowry had drawn in the quarter. Minutes earlier, he took a charge on Leonard in transition.
"We wanted to win," Lowry said. "We'll do anything it takes to win a basketball game."
Williams was thrilled to see him take those charges, as were the people around him. He said he appreciated "his enthusiasm: I just saw him guarding James Harden, fighting over screens, switching." Not exactly typical All-Star Game stuff.
"That's what he does," Team Giannis' Joel Embiid said. "Game on the line, he's going to be there. He is going to do what he has to do. I love him."
Team Giannis' Brandon Ingram said that Lowry's charge-taking was "something I've never seen before" in that setting. Even opponent Russell Westbrook said it was great because it meant they were competing and playing the right way. Siakam said there was no difference between Normal Kyle Lowry and the All-Star Game version: "We saw the charges. I think we saw the whole package. It's pretty much the same.
In a joint post-game interview with Siakam, TSN's Kate Beirness asked Lowry where his All-Star performance ranks in his career, given that he took not one, but two charges.
"Not that high," Lowry responded, "because I took three and they didn't call it."
The third would-be charge was also in the final frame, and it was against LeBron James, running full speed on a fast break. Since it wasn't called, Chris Paul made an open 3-pointer. Lowry was incredulous.
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