Russell Westbrook wins MVP, leads West to All-Star win
Last weekend was an extremely special one for the world. It was one of the few times in the year when passion rose above all and freakishly scary things happened. Last weekend was the “All-Star Weekend” for the National Basketball Association (NBA) — not to mention Valentine’s Day and Friday the 13th. Our story begins on Sunday night: Up until that point, the West had dominated the weekend, with Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry winning the Three-Point Contest, Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley trumping the Skills Challenge and Minnesota Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine conquering the Slam Dunk Contest. The East had one more chance to come out of the weekend with some dignity and silverware — the All-Star Game.
The fascination surrounding the All-Star Game is captured best by the words of the Western Conference Coach Steve Kerr. “What I was thinking today was just how cool it is for each one of you: your own unique story and how you got here and for the next couple of hours here we are in the Mecca, the Garden, and this is what it is all about.”
The stage was set for an iconic game. To heighten the magic of the moment, Pau and Marc Gasol, brothers and centers for the Chicago Bulls and Memphis grizzlies respectively, would make history by being the first brothers to start an All-Star game and face each other at the tipoff.
Coach Kerr told his players exactly how the first play would be: “One of you guys get it and like throw it to one of the other guys and then you throw it to someone else and then you shoot.” Funnily enough, that’s what it was all game long. Having players of such stature compete on such a glorified field, nobody is interested in strategic plays or pressuring defense. The focus instead is on a flamboyant offense, and this game would have no shortage of that.
The East was putting on a show with the likes of Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers small forward LeBron James and Washington Wizards point guard John Wall. It hardly seems fathomable that in a game comparable to a compilation of highlight reels, James could actually be outshone. But that’s exactly what happened with all the credit going to the West’s backcourt. Curry was showing off his ball handling and assisting skills galore with phenomenal offensive rebounds and assists. One of his many recipients was Rockets guard James Harden, who put on a fierce display all game long, from drilling a step-back three pointer against James to notching some vicious finishes at the rim. However, neither player could make nearly as much of an impact as Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has always possessed a seemingly bottomless reserve of athleticism and energy.
This All-Star game was a prime example of what happens when Westbrook starts finding his inner “Splash Brother.” Whenever the West asked, he delivered. His performance was nothing short of dazzling, from scoring at will from behind the arc to hitting his head on the backboard while throwing the ball down. It comes as no surprise then that he broke the record for most points scored in a half in an All-Star game, with a whopping 27. However, that was not enough to make King James shy away, and he held his own with 22 points in the first half, leading the East to a comeback before the break. At halftime, the West were in the lead by the skin of their teeth, with the scores at 83-82.
The second half provided plenty of excitement as things started to get more competitive with the time winding down. The game’s second half featured 12 lead changes and nine tie games as the East struggled to get back into the game with points shared across the board for an impressive combined team performance. No player from the East scored in double digits in the second half.
The West, on the other hand, were strongly led by the individual performances of Harden, Westbrook, Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul and Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, all of whom had double digit performances in the half. Ex-MVP Paul ended the night with a game-high 15 assists — something that seems quite normal given his exceptional understanding of the game. No matter how hard the East tried to achieve a lead of more than three points, the West kept mounting their own offensive plays, which were not only more numerous but also had a greater rate of success. Fate had made up its mind and the West were not going to be trumped.
If All-Star games had nicknames, this game would be called the “Alley-oop Game of 2015.” In a game with high-flying players (both literally and metaphorically) why would anyone finish with a floater when they could instead lob it to a teammate for a rim-rocking dunk that would ignite the 17,198 people in attendance.
Sky-walkers like James, Harden, and Westbrook and bigs like San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan and Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford were the main source of these displays. However, an All Star Game is not complete without a memorable moment or two and in this case they were the dunks by Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki and Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry. Nowitzki’s display came when Curry, the West’s chief leader of alley-oop assists crossed over the defense and executed a perfect lob to a cutting Nowitzki who finished with both hands before pointing to the sky, a reference to 2000 dunk contest champion Vince Carter.
Curry telling Irving at the start of the game to “Get more cardio in” all of a sudden makes sense as the West kept up their barrage of brilliance. It would not be so easy to forget about the East, however, as Lowry showed off his hops with a fantastic put back slam to achieve his first dunk since 2009.
Having said all that, the fabulous performances were not limited to finishes inside the paint. If Lowry was right when he said from the bench that all anybody wanted from the All Star game was to watch Kyle Korver shoot threes, then the audience definitely was not left disappointed as Korver finished the game with all his points coming from 3’s, shooting 7 for 12 from behind the arc.
Although Korver was in a league of his own, Westbrook did not have a poor showing either, achieving his whopping 41 points on the game on 5 of 9 shooting from 3-point range.
Curry and Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, known as the Splash Brothers, on the other hand, exhausted all their 3 pointers in the contest earlier in the weekend and so had very little to contribute to this game.
It seems only appropriate that the man who scored the most points — the man who soared the highest (as evidenced by his head on the backboard), the man with all the answers for the West — should be the man who would be awarded the MVP in this game of champions. And so as Westbrook went home with his own silverware, the West went home victorious (both for the game and the weekend) yet again.