Sunday night was the 70th annual NBA All-Star game being hosted at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. It is the first All-Star game played after the world experienced a shutdown, including sports, after the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also the first year in which the NBA honored the late Kobe Bryant by naming the NBA All-Star MVP award after him.
Leading up to the All-Star game, there was controversy as to whether the game should be held. In recent weeks, there have been a lot of postponed games and players being ruled out due to contact tracing and COVID-19 protocols. Even hours before the game, Zion Williams was tapped to replace Joel Embiid after he and Ben Simmons came in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. One of the NBA’s main stars and team captains, LeBron James, was a prominent voice to speak out and say there shouldn’t be an All-Star game during a pandemic. Instead, he indicated players could use the All-Star break as a time for rest due to the irregular NBA season. Yet after much debate between the players, team owners, and the NBA commissioner Adam Silver, it was collectively decided that the NBA All-Star game would carry on. As fans of the sport, we are thankful they did because the NBA did not disappoint; they put on a show!
The night kicked off with the NBA skills challenge in which NBA Stars Luka Doncic, Chris Paul, Julius Randle, Nikola Vucevic, Domantas Sabonis, and Robert Covington all competed. Both Luka Doncic and Chris Paul were favored to win the skills challenge being two of the most skilled guards in the NBA. Chris Paul is known to be the assist king with his crazy dime passes and his unbelievable handles. He ended up passing Magic Johnson with most All-Star game assists.
Luka Doncic, in his own respect, can move the ball up and down the court like no other and is a great outside shooter from the 3-point line. However, in this challenge, it was the big guys’ time to shine. Both Domantas Sabonis and Nikola Vucevic were finalists in the skills challenge. This was surprising as both players play center for each of their respective teams. Nonetheless, these two dynamic players are far from the old school ground and pound centers of the ‘90s and early 2000s. The centers in today’s NBA are much more versatile, being known for their shooting range, averaging double-doubles, and running the paint just like any other point guard would. These two players are ideal examples of the new age centers in the NBA. In the end, it was Domantas Sabonis who was crowned the NBA 2021 Skills Challenge Champion defeating Nikola Vucevic in what was a pretty tight competition.
Next, we had 6 of the most elite shooters duking it out in the NBA 3-Point challenge: Stephen Curry, Donovan Mitchell, Zach Lavine, Mike Conley, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum. Stephen Curry was the favorite to win this challenge, and rightfully so. Over the years he has built a reputation as being one of the top, if not the top three-point shooter the NBA has ever seen. Last year, unfortunately, he suffered a broken left-hand injury during a game that led him to miss the majority of the season. Coming into the season Curry had a lot to prove, especially coming back from a significant injury, and the All-Star 3-Point challenge was his stage to put the NBA on notice. He’s back. Curry was the only contestant to break the 30 point mark with 31 points in the 1st round. Going into the final round, it was veteran shooter Mike Conley who gave Curry the biggest challenge scoring 27 points. But in the end, in Curry-like fashion, down to the last moneyball, with 2 seconds left on the clock, down 1 point, as cool as the other side of the pillow, Curry drained the shot and claimed his spot as the 3-point champion.
The All-Star Dunk Challenge brought out the NBA’s young rising stars Anfernee Simons, Cassius Stanley, and Obi Toppin. This contest did not lack awesome creativity and high-flying dunks. The standout star of the contest was third-year guard Anfernee Simons from the Portland Blazers. Portland already has a big sheriff in town and his name is Damian, better known as “DAME-TIME” Lillard. So naturally, it can be easy for Simons to get overshadowed by such amazing talent. But Simons made sure to make a name for himself and let the world know, he’s just as big of a star in Portland. Simons’ winning dunk was one that showcased a talent no one in the league was aware of…this man has hops! He was able to elevate himself above the rim and blow a close-range kiss to the rim before throwing down a monster dunk that would ultimately crown him the Dunk Champion.
Anfernee Simons tried the kiss the rim dunk ? pic.twitter.com/hZYyQdPcTl— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 8, 2021
At last, after all the various challenges that showcased the league’s best talents, it was time for the main event. Team LeBron vs Team Durant. Coming into the game, Team LeBron was favored to win the game. In the past three All-Star games, LeBron’s team has gone 3-0 and has dominated the competition. On this night, unfortunately for Team Durant, it wasn’t any different. Team LeBron won all 4 quarters of the game and was able to raise more than 1 million dollars for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. With such a dominant performance by Team LeBron, leading the majority of the game by an average of 20 points, one star stood out amongst the rest. Reigning 2020 NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
He accomplished an absolutely insane feat, going a perfect 16-of-16 from the field. This has never been done in an All-Star game. The last time someone came remotely close was in the 1968 All-Star game when Hal Greer went 8-of-8. This accomplishment sets the record for the highest field goal percentage in an All-Star game with a minimum of 15 attempts. A couple of these incredible shots were banked off the glass, but apparently, the bank is always open for Giannis. “You know, usually it is closed on Sunday, but for me, it was open extended hours,” he joked. Antetokounmpo wins his first Kobe Bryant NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award.
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