NEW ORLEANS — Basketball purists might have jeered, put in the “Hoosiers” DVD, concentrated on happy thoughts about Red Auerbach and turned off the All-Star Game when the West flirted with scoring 100 points in the first half.
This wasn’t a textbook exhibition of X's and O's by any stretch.
But fans who watched the NBA’s annual star-studded pick-up game — from its pregame hip-hop spectacle starring Pharrell, Nelly, Diddy and Snoop Dogg, to Magic Johnson leading a chorus of thousands in a “Happy Birthday” serenade for legendary Bill Russell to an exciting down-to-the-wire finish — were given quite the entertaining show Sunday night at Smoothie King Center.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Knicks star Carmelo Anthony said. “It was good for us to be a part of that celebration.”
Perhaps a bit surprisingly, the All-Star Game also featured a comeback win for the Eastern Conference and an MVP coronation for Kyrie Irving. The Cavaliers’ speedy playmaker scored 31 points and dished out 14 assists while helping the East overcome the loaded Western Conference’s early 18-point lead.
Anthony finished with 30 points, LeBron James had 22 and Paul George added 18 in the East's 163-155 victory.
“The East wanted to win this one,” Irving said. “We took this personal a little bit.”
Despite getting 38 points apiece from dunking commercial star Blake Griffin and 2013-14 MVP front-runner Kevin Durant, the West couldn’t hold on for a fourth consecutive win over the East after taking an 89-76 lead at halftime.
“We kind of cheated in the All-Star Game and played defense a little bit,” former Jazz power forward Paul Millsap said with a smile.
Millsap, now playing for Atlanta after seven seasons in Utah, said that his team’s coach, Indiana’s Frank Vogel, did the unthinkable. He convinced the Eastern stars to play hard on both sides in the fourth quarter when the West was held to a relatively low 29 points.
“He’s been stressing the entire game (to) go out there, the team that plays defense is going to be the team that wins,” Millsap said. “And guys went and did it.”
There’s a reason why Millsap was smiling when he talked about his team’s defense. The NBA All-Star record book could’ve been doused in white out after this one.
Offensive records set in this scoreboard-scorching shootout included: most combined points (318), highest-scoring team (163, East), individual 3-pointers (eight, Anthony), field goals made (19 by Griffin) and first-half points (89, West).
“It was terrible because we lost,” Clippers star Chris Paul said after he scored 11 points with 13 assists. “It was fun, though, culminating a great week here in New Orleans. The fans always want a competitive All-Star Game, and it was a real good one this year.”
Millsap certainly agrees. The 29-year-old was playing in his first All-Star Game and was the oldest of the six first-timers in the contest.
“It’s amazing. I can’t even put it in words,” Millsap said. “To get out here with these guys, to play at a high level (and) these guys were my teammates for a few hours. It was fun to get out there with that. I enjoyed myself.”
Millsap finished with six points, three rebounds, one assist and a lifetime full of memories.
“Trust me, it’s a lot different in person than it is on TV,” he said. “Hopefully, I have a chance to come back. It was an amazing experience for me.”
Utahns had an All-Star Game claim to fame in back-to-back plays Sunday. In consecutive possessions, Millsap scored on an alley-oop layup on one end and former Weber State star Damian Lillard sank a 3-pointer on the other end.
Lillard, capping his five-event All-Star weekend, scored nine points on three 3-pointers in just less than nine minutes.
Lillard, the reigning Rookie of the Year, was pinching himself all weekend about how far he’s come and how much his life has changed since sporting Wildcat purple.
“It’s changed a lot. Two years ago, I was in Ogden, Utah, going to class wearing the same shoes every day,” he said. “Now it’s everybody wants your autograph, people want to (take) pictures when I go to dinner. It’s completely changed.”
And he’s proud of the work that people like Weber State coach Randy Rahe helped him do to get to this point.
“One of my coaches used to always tell me, ‘When you work hard, you’re going to get results,’” he said. “Everything that’s happening, I’ve got to get all the credit to the people who’ve helped me on the way. When you work hard, you get results.”
And sometimes you get to play in thrilling contests like Sunday's All-Star Game.
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