NBA All-Star Weekend 2020 was undoubtedly a resounding success. We got great shots of Trae Young and Luka Doncic goofing around the Rising Stars game, tons of buzz around the dunk contest and the most competitive All-Star game in recent memory.
Adam Silver and the NBA just took a big W as Rob Manfred and the MLB took a major L for the controversial punishments (or lack thereof) given to the Houston Astros for cheating their way to a World Series trophy.
Sure, there was a little controversy (if you can even use the word for something so insignificant) centered around the ending of the dunk contest, but nothing serious. In the final round, Aaron Gordon dunked over the 7-foot-5-inch Tacko Fall, and the judges gave him a score one point shy of tying Miami Heat’s Derrick Jones, Jr. for what is widely viewed as an equal or lesser dunk.
— NBA (@NBA) February 16, 2020
According to one of the judges, Chicago-grown rapper Common, “We [the judges] thought it was going to be a tie. We were like, ‘this is a tie.’ But somebody didn’t do it right. I don’t know who it was.”
Common himself and WNBA star Candice Parker each gave Gordon’s final dunk a 10, exonerating them from making the “mistake.” The nines came from Bulls legend Scottie Pippen, Chadwick Boseman, better known as “Black Panther,” and former Heat player Dwyane Wade. Hmm, I wonder who it could’ve been …
Honestly, though, who cares if Wade rigged the dunk contest for his former teammate? We saw what might’ve been the best collection of dunks in a singular showcase in basketball history. Either Gordon or Jones, Jr. would’ve had the best performance by a runner-up ever. It just sucks for Gordon that it had to be him.
Moving on to the All-Star game, we got one for the ages. Traditionally an exhibition that featured little effort and even less defense, the level of competition of 2020’s All-Star game was marginally higher than in years past, particularly in the fourth quarter.
This year’s format had two interesting wrinkles. The first is that the score reset at the end of each quarter, with the winner of each individual quarter winning a $100,000 donation to their chosen charity. The first quarter went to Team LeBron, the second to Team Giannis and the third was a draw.
The second wrinkle kicked in for the fourth quarter. Each team was given their total score through the first three quarters back on the scoreboard. Then, the score either team would have to achieve to win the game became the leading team’s score plus 24, to honor Kobe Bryant. So, Team Giannis led 133-124 with the score needed to win set at 157.
Team LeBron kicked off the fourth with a roaring comeback, in large part due to a 7-point spurt by Kemba Walker. As the scores reached the mid-forties, the tension in what was already a pretty competitive game was kicked up a notch.
All-Stars were actually trying hard in a game that they typically don’t. Veterans that didn’t start the game like Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry were out there in crunch time in favor of the younger starters. They were making gritty plays, with Lowry taking two charges, one coming on a would-be game-winner by James Harden.
Ultimately, the heightened competition of the game led to the most anticlimactic type of final shot: a free throw. Anthony Davis ended the game at 157-155 with a free throw, and the same people that praised the All-Star game’s quality had that one thing to harp on.
If the All-Star game becomes a game that players actually care about winning, there are going to be fouls, and players are going to shoot free throws. That’s just basketball.
So, how do we prevent winning the game on a free throw without giving the defense free-reign to foul? Daily Campus Hall of Famers Bryan Lambert and Matt Barresi weighed in on Twitter:
“Would it be feasible to make it so that you can’t end the game on a free throw, but in a situation like that it would subtract points from the other team? The defensive team would still have a deterrent from hacking away, but the game would still have to end on a field goal,” Lambert said.
“Exactly what I was thinking. Would be an interesting wrinkle imo,” Barresi, winner of the 2019 Most Valuable Barresi award, replied.
I think this is a viable solution to prevent concluding the All-Star game from the charity stripe. After all, it is just an exhibition. You wouldn’t end a game of pickup with a free throw (if you even shoot them in pickup). Even in the classic three-person game 21, you have to win with a field goal.
This is just a nitpicky detail, though. As a whole, the new format was unmistakably an improvement, and I would love to see All-Star games just as exciting as this year’s in the future.