This past weekend, NBA fans were finally given what they've wanted for years -- an ultra-competitive NBA All-Star Game with future Hall of Famers battling each other like it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Well, it turns out that the game could have ended exactly like a Game 7, but not from the NBA Finals.
Team LeBron won on a free throw from Lakers big man and Chicago native Anthony Davis, a bit anti-climactic given the drama and intensity of the final quarter. But team captain LeBron James said that the play was initially designed by Lakers coach Frank Vogel to mimic the in Game 7 of last year's Eastern Conference semifinals between the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers. As you'll recall, Leonard dribbled to the baseline before launching a fadeaway over Sixers big man Joel Embiid that bounced four times on the rim before falling through to send the Raptors to the conference finals.
James recently broke down what the final play of the All-Star Game was supposed to look like before defensive adjustments led to some improvisation. Via Melissa Rohlin of Sports Illustrated:
"Coach [Vogel] drew a play in timeout to get a pin down for Kawhi. We were doing the Toronto versus Philly game-clincher play, where he hit the shot over Embiid. They switched out on AD [Anthony Davis] and two guys went to AD, so Kawhi went directly to James [Harden]. James drove the baseline and threw it to CP [Chris Paul] in the corner, and then CP drove middle, kicked it back to me, and they were scrambled defensively.
"For a second I was about to go one-on-one, which you saw in the picture that I posted with me and Giannis [Antetokounmpo]. And then when I saw that Kyle Lowry was on Anthony ... we just made eye contact, and I already knew he was gonna duck in, and then it was just a bang-bang play right there."
Lowry ended up fouling Davis on LeBron's entry pass, which resulted in the game-winning free throw. ESPN produced a nice split-screen of James recounting the play with what was actually happening, and as you can see, LeBron gets it exactly right.
A couple of takeaways here. First off, it's another display of LeBron's phenomenal basketball IQ and memory. He's, and it shows an underrated aspect of what makes him such a unique player. Second, it's telling that Vogel, with two of his own players on the court, would draw up the final play for Leonard, who wound up winning the first-ever Kobe Bryant All-Star Game MVP Award. It's clear that they were fine with Leonard winning the award, and wanted to give him the honor of finishing off the game.
Lastly, it's pretty funny that the coach of Team Giannis was none other than Nick Nurse, who designed the play that Team LeBron wanted to use to beat him. Leonard is with the Los Angeles Clippers now, but Nurse surely would have gotten a chuckle had Leonard hit the same game-winner, this time against him instead of with him.
This was an interesting little tidbit from LeBron, and the fact that we're even talking about the All-Star Game four days after it happened speaks volumes about what a success it was.