Tuesday , Feb , 22 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

NBA All-Star Recap

Hi, all. What’s really good? This week we deal with the events of All-Star weekend 2005, beginning with the got milk? Rookie-Sophomore game. This was the contest in which we got to see the three guys we’ve come to know by one name on the same team: LeBron, Carmelo and Dwyane. Commentators generally predicted a big win for the second-year players, who came with as much talent as any sophomore squad in recent memory. Things were only made worse for the rookies when it was confirmed that Emeka Okafor’s sprained ankle would keep him out of the contest, meaning that they’d be even more exposed to the interior pummelling the super sophomores were expected to give them.

<b><I>NBA All-Star Recap</b></I>“/>The game’s first highlight came when Wade made a steal in the frontcourt, tossing up an alley-oop for LeBron, who caught the ball wide of his right shoulder, cocked it back a little and threw it down with gusto, much to the delight of the crowd. James followed it up with a slick over-the-shoulder pass to a cutting Bosh, who caught the ball open under the rim and finished with a double-handed stuff. LeBron’s third big play of the half came when he got a step on Al Jefferson and Luol Deng as he drove across the lane, finishing the move with an emphatic hammer despite almost being stripped of the ball by Deng.<BR><BR>However, he was on the wrong end of the half’s most stylish play, when former Connecticut guard Ben Gordon threw in a subtle foot-fake to the right before dribbling the ball round his back to the left, sending LeBron the wrong way and clearing himself a path to the hole in the process, completing the play with an impressive teardrop over Kyle Korver. Shortly thereafter, first-year Philadelphia swingman Andre Iguodala had a chance to show off his athleticism, taking a slick feed from Devin Harris to throw down a big windmill dunk from a double-footed takeoff. Devin Harris also set up another of the half’s many highlights when he threw a no-look alley-oop over his head to Deng, who put it down with ease. <BR><BR>It was then that we first saw Josh Smith display the form that would win him the dunk contest (more of which later) when he caught a poor pass from Deng, twisted in midair and packed one in backwards, bringing the bench to its feet. It’s unfortunate that this was the only monster dunk he completed in the game (he narrowly missed what would have been an unbelievable one hundred and eighty-degree alley-oop), although he more than made up for it the following day. <BR><BR>With slightly over a minute left in the half we saw the unlikely pairing of LeBron James and Udonis Haslem running the floor, with the latter showing his new-found speed and leaping ability as he caught a lob pass from the former on the run, finishing with a stylish throwdown. <BR><BR>The second half opened with yet more alley-oops as Carmelo caught a nice pass from LeBron and hammered one down in front of his home crowd, drawing a chorus of cheers from the stands, as he did again some moments later when he caught a backdoor feed from Haslem, finishing similarly. <BR><BR>With eleven minutes left in the half (they played two twenty-minute periods, college-style), Korver received the ball from Hinrich on the break and connected on a leaning three, one of seven he hit on the evening. <BR><BR>The game ended predictably as the sophomores pulled themselves out of the six-point hole they had fallen into at the intermission and sent the rookies home with a 133-106 beating. The rookies led a balanced attack, with their top three scorers (Luol Deng, Tony Allen and Al Jefferson) all finishing on seventeen points. Jefferson finished with a double-double (17 and 11) and this year’s number one draft pick, Dwight Howard, left the court with 14, 5, 1 and 3 blocks. <BR><BR>The sophomores had four twenty-point players, with Anthony as the leading scorer with 31 to go with 5 boards and 2 assists. Bosh had a big 26 and 14 and Wade handed out a game-high 9 dimes. Hometown hero Carmelo took the game’s MVP honours, unable to suppress his signature grin as he received his trophy. The dunk contest is back, ladies and gentlemen. Lacklustre performances in recent years led some to believe that the contest was to be shelved once more (please don’t ever subject us to <I>2Ball</I> again), but two Smiths and a Stoudemire (sorry, Birdman) guaranteed that we’ll be seeing the league’s premier leapers come together on All-Star Saturday for some time to come. J.R. Smith came out in the first round with a phenomenal behind-the-back dunk, the difficulty of which most people wouldn’t appreciate. If you ever find yourself by a lowered hoop, try it yourself and you’ll see how tricky it is to gather the ball cleanly for the dunk. Smith managed it without looking clumsy, smoothly guiding the ball home. Team-mate Chris Andersen had less success in the first round, however, requiring a combined fifteen attempts to put down his two first-round dunks, causing even the Denver crowd (remember that he was a fan favourite there just last year) to boo him. Josh Smith really got the party started when he brought Kenyon Martin (an acquaintance made through their mutual agent) out onto the floor, seating him in the middle of the key and throwing him the ball. Taking a run-up from the half, he leapt from outside the dotted line, caught the pass from Martin and slammed down a huge windmill having cleared the Denver forward, popping his collar for effect as he landed. Perhaps one of the best dunks the contest has ever seen, it certainly pleased the crowd and commentators, who did all they could not to crown Smith the champion right there and then. The replay makes the dunk seem all the more impressive, as one frame shows him with his head at rim height and with the ball cradled at hip-level. Just sick. However, Stoudemire did his best to provide resistance, coming out with one of the contest’s more creative efforts as he threw the ball off the board to Steve Nash, who headed it back up for Amaré, who finished the play with a spinning spike to earn a perfect score. While it was certainly a fun play to watch, I’m not sure it was worth the full fifty as the hardest part of the sequence was carried out by Nash. The dunk itself was nothing spectacular, particularly for Stoudemire, a 6’10” jumping freak. <BR><BR>Smith countered by pulling on a Dominique Wilkins jersey and pulling off one of his signature dunks, a floating windmill jam. The ease with which Smith threw it down almost cheapened the dunk, but seeing how little effort it required for him to make it to the rim having taken off from outside the key (double-footed at that) obviously impressed the judges, who awarded him his second fifty of the evening. <BR><BR>Stoudemire’s response was a through-the-legs reverse completed with two hands from along the baseline. Again, it was a nice dunk, but something just didn’t look right. I’m not the first person to have commented on how a contestant of Stoudemire’s size just can’t pull off dunks of the same beauty as a smaller player. Granted, Smith is only listed as being an inch shorter than Amaré, although this is most likely due to a little generosity in his playerfile. Whatever the case, there was simply a flair to his dunks which set him apart from his fellow finalist, perhaps aided by the fact that he’s a lefty. <BR><BR>Smith put an end to the debate with a freakish windmill, taking off from the right-hand side of the hoop and spinning three hundred and sixty degrees before throwing it through on the opposite side of the rim, spinning another hundred degrees before landing. Game over. Aesthetically pleasing and ridiculously difficult, this throwdown capped what I’d consider the strongest individual showing in the contest since Vince’s legendary efforts in the 2000 event. Stoudemire, already defeated, rounded things up with another soccer-inspired dunk, half-heartedly putting down a two-hander off the Nash flick-up pass. Smith went home with the title, a cool $25,000 and the knowledge that his performance would go down in the dunking annals as one of the greats. <BR><BR>The three-point shootout proved to be a fairly bland affair, with the streaky Quentin Richardson hitting his final nine shots to take the crown over Kyle Korver and the injured Voshon Lenard. <BR><BR>The All-Star game itself promised to be a good ‘un as the league’s big names stepped out onto the floor to be greeted by a rowdy audience, with Iverson, Hill and Garnett drawing particularly loud cheers. Shaq played to the crowd, dancing along to the music and showing why he’d be one of the league’s most popular players even without his massive game. As expected, Kobe Bryant received a mixed reception, with the volume of the music rising conveniently to drown out the boos from the Colorado crowd. It’s also worth noting that he and Shaq shared no pleasantries before the tip and were the only two not to shake hands. That said, Kobe seems at least to have patched things up with Ray Allen, as the two were seen joking uncomfortably with one another on the bench, both clearly wishing to forget their much-publicised feud. <BR><BR>Things start off slowly, with Vince and others spotting up for mid-to-long range jumpers in the game’s opening minutes. With seven minutes left in the first, Shaq jump-starts the game with a leaning baseline dunk over Yao Ming off of a nifty move. While Shaq makes his way back down the court, the camera focuses on Yao, who simply laughs. Shortly thereafter Shaq plays to the crowd again, shooting a free throw with his left hand on his hip and a comic look on his face, only barely missing the shot. <BR><BR>At the other end of the floor, LeBron catches a lob from Iverson which looks to have gone far too high and spikes it down, hardly acknowledging the play as he trots back down the court. Moments later he repays the favour with a sweet backdoor pass to Iverson, who converts an open layup along the baseline. <BR><BR>Shaq then shows his defensive prowess, emphatically swatting Amaré. Several trips down the floor later, we see Grant Hill take an alley-oop pass from Wade over his left shoulder to dunk it two-handed on the run, prompting just about everyone to comment on how much better the ankle must be. It’s hard to believe that he’s had a grand total of five surgeries on it since he last appeared in an All-Star game. <BR><BR>Shaq double-pumps and dunks it over Ray Allen, shimmying in the style of Antoine Walker as he makes his way back down the floor. You’ve got to love the big fella’s antics. <BR><BR>With slightly under five minutes left in the half, Iverson makes a beautiful spin move in the corner to beat Ginobili along the baseline, twisting back to make a crisp pass to a cutting Jamison, who finishes with the easy layup. A courtside microphone catches Iverson commenting that he can’t breathe due to the thin air. <BR><BR>Roughly two minutes later, Kobe anticipates Iverson’s pass and makes the steal, finding a trailing Marion on the break, who serves up one of his double-handed specialties. <BR><BR>However, it is with a minute and a half left before the break that Vince provides the play of the night. Taking notes from cousin McGrady, he sees an open lane throws the ball off the board to himself in transition, catching it with one hand and cocking it back for the monster slam. Fifty replays later and I’m still amazed by this one, and more than a little annoyed that Vince didn’t enter the dunk contest (nobody cares about the three-year rule). Vince is definitely back, folks. <BR><BR>The half ends as the camera turns to P. Diddy and Nelly, who are playing with a cell phone set into one of Shaq’s sneakers. Bizarre. A quick look at the box score shows that Iverson is playing the distributor again, going into the locker-room with eight assists. <BR><BR>Opening the second half’s highlights, LeBron makes the steal and finds himself with a clear path to the goal, cocking it back for one of his trademark tomahawks. Although he still dunks it with ease, he looks a little uncomfortable on that ankle. This is followed by a huge swat (and a look) by K.G. on Jermaine O’Neal, although the officials rule it a goal-tend. It was still filthy, though. <BR><BR>McGrady puts in a playground crossover on the run, freaking a few defenders as he switches the ball from his right side to his left and back again using the same hand. Two minutes into the fourth, Dwyane flushes a two-hand reverse on the break, minutes later being upstaged by Stoudemire, who catches a floating pass from Kobe Bryant for the double-pump alley-oop. Dwyane responds with an incredible first step to free up some space along the baseline before jamming one home with authority. <BR><BR>Shortly thereafter McGrady throws the ball off the board, but cannot complete the dunk, instead gently finger-rolling it in for the two points. Down the other end, Shaq gets out on the run and McGrady gets out of his way as Diesel powers one down, for the second time showing surprising agility for a man of his bulk. Superman closes out the contest with a three, which glances off the rim as time expires. <BR><BR>Notably, no player scores over twenty points in the game, marking the first time this has occurred since the 1981 All-Star weekend. Iverson is awarded the M.V.P. trophy, having contributed 15, 10, 4 and 5 steals in the east victory. In his speech, he refers to Shaq as “the greatest player ever to play the game.” Interesting. <BR><BR>All in all, it was another excellent weekend. There may be a few too many contests, but the fans were entertained, which, after all, is what the All-Star break is about. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions concerning the weekend’s festivities, you can use the comment box below or email me directly at 8charles@gmail.com. <BR><BR>Take it easy now, <BR><BR>Chuck. <BR><BR></p>