2009 All-Star Game: Running Diary

2009 Western Conference All-StarsHere’s what we’re covering in today’s All-Star game:

1) Interesting moments for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol
2) Noticeable nuggets involving Phil Jackson and his Lakers assistant coaches
3) The MVP race, particularly my and Ty’s MVP Draft.

That’ll just about do it. Here are the starters:

Lakers: Oops. Habit. Western Conference: Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Amare Stoudemire, Tim Duncan and Yao Ming
Eastern Conference: Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard

Kobe BryantFirst Quarter
12:00 Intros: Kobe was the last player announced among the All-Stars, which drew primarily cheers with a few boos from Suns fans (Spurs Duncan and Tony Parker were booed as well). Equally solid: Since I missed “Oh Canada” when we were in Toronto, I was pretty happy to hear Grant Hill’s wife belt it out like Celine Dion (with a special French/English mix). Impressive. Is it unpatriotic to like Canada’s version more than the U.S. National Anthem? Jordin Sparks (American Idol winner from Arizona) was pretty solid, to be fair.

11:40 Even though it was over Kobe, I’m liking the D-Wade pull-up from three. Good start for my top MVP pick. Ty’s No. 1 selection (LeBron) followed with a layup after Kobe’s missed triple for a 5-0 East lead.

9:08 Kobe hit his first of three shots, a pull-up in the lane over KG’s outstretched hands. I guess he’s not scared to shoot today, which makes sense because the West has such a huge starting lineup. In other words, Kobe’s the only guy that creates his own shot willingly from the perimeter.

8:22 So Kobe needs a bit of time to warm up … he just missed his fourth of five shots, this time from three. No worries for Lakers fans, because it’s better he miss now than vs. Atlanta on Tuesday.

7:22 AI tried to match Corey Maggette’s record for steps taken before dribbling, but only got to five.

6:57 Huge two-handed dunk off a pretty Paul set up from Bryant.

5:44 The first timeout of the game saw the East up 21-10, which really isn’t surprising considering the frontcourt matchups: Howard’s got Yao in this kind of game, Duncan and KG cancel out, and LeBron’s not even close with Stoudemire. This should even out soon though…

… The timeout allowed Phil to put Shaq in with Kobe for the first time.

4:37 If they’re not going to cover Kobe, he’ll keep shooting – this time a completely wide-open three, which he dropped to go 4-of-9 for a game-high nine points. Meanwhile, Jackson kept Kobe on the floor with Shaq, Chauncey Billups, Brandon Roy and Dirk Nowitzki.

3:40 Kobe again. Ty says he’s hungry because he didn’t play much at all last year (finger). He’s got 11.

2:56 We’ve been talking all day about how small the East team is, which became clear when Rashard Lewis tried to guard Shaq (foul). The West has taken advantage by scoring every point of the last few minutes…

1:56 …Finally, a 19-0 West run was halted by a Rashard Lewis three, one he had in the bank from his final-round performance of the three-point shootout. It’s just odd to have a massive run here, because it’s not like the West completely locked down on D or anything.

1:21 Another of my MVP top three, Tony Parker, scored four points with a dime in his first minute. Let’s keep that going, France.

0:29.0 Checking in for Shaq, Gasol immediately dunked, grabbed a defensive rebound and missed a baby hook in the lane. Nonetheless, the Western size caught up to the East, who went up 20-8 only to be outscored 24-7 (they didn’t score from the 5:52 mark until 1:56 remained).

WadeSecond Quarter
Team Mike’s looking good in the MVP race right now with Shaq, whose six points, three boards, three dimes, block and +15 looked good on the stat sheet.

9:13 There’s Pau with an offensive board and put-back, his second bucket with three boards and a block. Ty and I are debating how many minutes we want him to play. In some ways, it’d be nice to keep his minutes down … But on the other hand, since neither team will play much if any defense until the fourth quarter, what’s the harm in getting up and down the floor for a bit of cardio?

7:52 Pierce is making an early run at MVP, scoring under the hoop in transition to get to a game-high 14 points on 3-of-6 shooting with five free throws. I’m sure Lakers fans would like to hear Pierce declare himself the world’s best player after winning both the Finals MVP (now named after Bill Russell) and the All-Star MVP. That, or they’d rather let Shaq sit on their respective heads.

5:49 Gasol dunked again, from Kobe’s lofted pass, to put the West up 52-47.

3:16 The NBA’s been full of props this weekend, a process that continued when KG, Pierce and Allen brought a mammoth birthday cake on the court to honor Bill Russell. Honestly, the coolest moment of the weekend may have occurred during David Stern’s press conference when he announced that the Finals MVP award would from now on be named after Russell. Stern mentioned that Russell had just recently lost his wife, and when the Boston legend got on the podium to speak, it nearly brought tears to everyone in the press room.

1:34 As LeBron hits a three to bring the East within one, Ty’s MVP update is that the only jump-out-at-you stat is Chris Paul’s eight assists. Two other good lines are from the guys responsible for the last two All-Star MVPs, not coincidentally the NBA’s two best players:

Lebron: 10 points, three boards, one assist in 11 minutes
Kobe: 13 points, three boards, two assists, three steals in 15 minutes

0:29.3 There’s Paul’s first hoop. He’s the clubhouse leader as the West takes a 72-67 lead into halftime.

Halftime One of the biggest cheers of the night came when President Obama’s pre-taped message was shown on the jumbotron. Pretty cool. Subsequently, John Legend came out to perform. First up was “If You’re Out There.” Ty started singing along: “If you’re out there…. Sing along with me … If you’re out there … I’m dying to believe that you’re out there. Stand up and sing it loud, if you’re out there … Tomorrow’s starting now.” I waited until Juanes came out to sing a verse in Spanish to participate.

ShaqAlso, how about Shaq’s pregame picture. Solid, right?

Team USA Honored: Another nice halftime moment as Team USA got up on a small podium and received some love from the fans, plus a ring from Jerry Colangelo, chairman of USA basketball. We’ve already spent some time talking Team USA this weekend, but a final touch was nice.

Pau GasolThird Quarter
My MVP candidates: Wade, CP3, Parker, Shaq and Allen
Ty’s: LeBron, Kobe, Amare, Dirk and Howard

Allen’s probably the only guy completely dead at this point.

11:24 Amare, perhaps thinking about a potential trade destination (“Hmm, I like Lake Michigan but Nike HQ is in Oregon”) well asleep on the West’s first possession. Kobe looked to swing the ball to him, but S.T.A.T. was just chillin’, staring at the basket.

9:50 Super impressive play from that beast otherwise known as Dwight, rising to swat Yao’s turnaround attempt off the baseline. Some people would rather see this, but blocks are fun too.

7:45 Kobe, for three. He’s now 8-of-15 for a game-high 18 points. With the West leading, it’s currently between Mamba and Paul (six points, eight assists, five boards, two steals) for MVP. When Kobe won in Vegas in 2007, he had 31 points, six assists, six steals and five boards.

6:20 Another three from Kobe, which gave the West a 93-80 lead. Twenty-one points and counting.

5:51 Jay-Z and Beyonce failed to kiss for the “Kiss Me Cam.” Instead, Jay-Z put up his triangle symbol. On the ensuing possession, Kobe found newly-entered Shaq for an easy layup before Mo Williams (whom Ty thinks looks like John Legend) hit a triple.

3:59 Best play of the game so far: Shaq, isolated at the three-point line with Howard covering, threw the ball through Howard’s legs to Paul, who then returned the ball to a cutting Diesel for a dunk. He’s easily created the biggest fan interest tonight, bar none, while producing 12 points, three boards, three dimes and a block in seven minutes.

2:27 My “Lifetime Achievement” award is still in the mix, since Shaq just dunked twice more to get to 14 points, with much of the production coming out of the high pick and roll with Kobe. In related news, Rashard Lewis is guarding the Cactus.

0:00 The quarter ended with the West holding a relatively safe 19-point lead at 110-91, though All-Star leads are never safe. Still, right now, we’re basically down to Shaq (me), Kobe (Ty) and CP3, with Amare (Ty) still having a chance. It may come down to who plays the most minutes down the stretch … Will Phil let Shaq run it out? Because if so, his teammates should continue to defer. P.S., Gasol didn’t play in the third, and has totaled seven minutes of burn. Generally, that kind of thing is worked out before the contest, and you have to think it’s a mutual decision from Pau and Phil. Kobe and Shaq started the fourth on the bench together, and I don’t think Duncan or Yao particularly wants to play, so let’s not be surprised if Phil goes with his former tandem to finish.

Kobe ShaqFourth Quarter
7:47 A terrific pass from Gasol saw to an easy Parker layup that put the West up 120-101. That was Pau’s first assist, plus 10 points and five boards in 11 minutes.

5:55 Mike Brown, Cleveland and the East’s coach, is going to try and make his run with this lineup: Devin Harris, Joe Johnson (who’s had the worst game of anyone with an 0-for-3, no-rebound, no-assist, three-turnover game.

5:13 Checking back in was Bryant, who hit consecutive shots to get to a game-high 27 points.

4:07 Gasol got his 12th point when Paul found him after a crafty move that drew two defenders for his 11th assist. The 12th dime came on the next possession.

2:35 Isolated on big Dwight, Kobe looked to be attempting to dribble through the Magic center’s legs, but Howard got his hands on the ball and stole it. He promptly returned the favor, however, by dribbling off his leg after calling for the clear-out on Kobe.

Kobe then went to take a seat next to Shaq – who didn’t play in the quarter – on the bench. Paul remained in the game, and is the only guy with a shot to unseat Bryant as the MVP.

2:00 That won’t hurt … Paul skied high to throw down an alley-oop off a perfectly tossed pass from Parker. At that point, Paul had 12 points, 12 assists, five boards and two steals, going against Kobe’s 27 points (on 12-of-23 shooting) with four steals, assists and rebounds. Or does Shaq still sneak in there?

1:00 How about this sequence? Paul picked Johnson’s pocket (ensuring Joe’s Least Valuable Player honors), before missing a dunk at the other end. He simply grabbed the rebound and stuck in a layup. His final stat pad came with an off-glass oop to Brandon Roy, giving Paul 14 points, 14 dimes, seven boards and three steals.

0:14.0 The final highlight for the fans came courtesy of LeBron, who took the West’s clearout of the lane to hammer down a two-handed self-alley-oop off the backboard. Final score: 146-119 West in a thorough beat down behind 74 second-half points.

MVP HONORS
Sure enough, Shaq snuck in there … Alongside Kobe. Co-MVPs, everybody. I’m sure we’ll be writing more about this soon. Check back for the postgame action.