CHICAGO — The NBA scored big with the Elam Ending for Sunday’s 69th NBA All-Star Game, as the contest was more competitive and intense than in the past decade plus, something the league desired after years of no-defense exhibitions.
The league devised a new game format, with each team playing to win quarters and then an untimed fourth period with the winning team needing to add 24 points to its combined score for three quarters.
With Team Giannis leading by 9 points after their first three quarter scores were a combined 133, the target score became 157. And Team Giannis and Team LeBron played as physical and defensive-themed fourth quarter that brought shades of All-Star Games from the 1980s and ’90s.
Anthony Davis of Team LeBron sealed the game with a free throw for a 157-155 win. While the ending with a free throw was anticlimactic, the passionate play that led up that conclusion was the storyline.
The format was wildly successful as the NBA has sought to improve its midseason game by trying to spark more competition. It worked, with LeBron James and Giannis Antetokoumpo facing off in that final period, Chris Paul driving to the basket for physical layups, and Joel Embiid trying to destroy his opponent in the post.
In one sequence with the score tied at 152, Embiid of Team Giannis went up for a layup and official Mark Davis called a foul on Davis. Both teams converged on Davis to argue whether it was a foul or jump ball. Davis called foul and LeBron coach Frank Vogel of the Lakers challenged the call. Team LeBron won the challenge.
“I didn’t know what to expect because it was a new format,” said James, who scored 23 points. “None of us knew what to expect. But throughout the whole fourth quarter and at the end of the game, everybody as like, ‘That was pretty damn fun.’ That was extremely fun and a great way to end 2020 All-Star Weekend.”
The best game in years capped a sparkling All-Star Weekend that served as a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant (24 was one of his uniform numbers and the target fourth quarter score).
Celtics guard Kemba Walker was playing key minutes down the stretch, finishing with 23 points for Team Giannis, including a couple of key 3-pointers in the final period.
Jayson Tatum finished with 6 points in 14 minutes for Team LeBron with 3 assists and 3 steals.
“It was great,” Tatum said of his first All-Star Game. “I had a lot of fun. The ending was crazy. They was playing hard. It was fun to be out there.”
Walker and Tatum faced up on a possession with Walker forcing a Tatum jump shot miss. Walker was excited about the stop.
“I locked him up, like I told him,” Walker said. “It’s cool, man. That’s my little brother. He’s been having a hell of a season. He deserves to be here. And it was cool for me to get a chance to go up to him. I’m super proud of him. It was a great moment for both of us.”
Said Tatum: “It was all fun. I missed the shot. We won. He lost.”
After years of players approaching the game not to get hurt and pull off a couple of acrobatic plays, the All-Star Game resembled a playoff game, with players vigorously arguing calls, challenging each other defensively, and making the extra pass instead of the showboating play. The result was one of the more exciting All-Star Games in decades and it’s almost a certainty the NBA will stick with this new format.
Kawhi Leonard of Team LeBron was named the Kobe Bryant MVP with a game-high 30 points, hitting eight of 14 3-pointers, seven of those in the first half.
The NBA announced it would name the All-Star MVP Award after Bryant on Saturday.
Not so fast
While commissioner Adam Silver said the league is still strongly considering an in-season tournament, there will be no planned vote from the Board of Governors and the league will continue to research the viability of the idea.
“I think the sense of virtually all the groups that I spoke to is that these are significant changes,” Silver said. “We should fully vet them and deliberate them, but then when it comes time to make them, we should make them. In part, because we’re not going to know enough from one season.
“So what we’re now doing is having further conversations with the players, the players association, our teams and media partners, and saying what are the appropriate changes we should be making? I strongly believe we will end up with some sort of in-season tournament and a play-in tournament, but let’s refocus on all the component parts and do something with the intention that those will be changes we’ll make going forward.
“It doesn’t mean forever, but it may mean that we could end up changing course at some point if we don’t think it’s working the way we believe it will, but that seemed to be the consensus.”