The 2016 NBA All-Star game is taking place in Toronto, Canada this year, and a who’s who of NBA superstars will be competing in the event. Players like Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Stephen Curry will be taking the floor, but most of the talk has centered around one name: Kobe Bryant.
Bryant has announced that he will retire at the conclusion of the season, which means that this will be his final appearance in the All-Star game. His 18 All-Star selections is surpassed only by the great Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, and many believe that Kobe will be given every opportunity to win a record fifth All-Star game MVP award.
It’s a night that will be bittersweet as the eyes of the basketball world tune in to watch Kobe Bryant perform as an All-Star one final time.
Kobe Bryant’s final All-Star game started with with a huge ovation and fireworks celebration for Bryant, followed by a video tribute and a touching dedication by Magic Johnson. Bryant jumped center for the opening tip, and the game began as expected, with highlight dunks aplenty and defense nowhere to be found. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook led the way early for the West, combining for a number of spectacular dunks. Bryant had a nice drop-off pass to Westbrook for a dunk, and primarily looked to set up teammates rather than score. The West cut into an early East lead midway through the first, prompting a timeout. When we returned to action the West ran a post-up play for Kobe at the elbow, allowing Bryant to get his first field goal on a smooth turnaround. After a line change the West and East continued to trade dunks, with Chris Paul finding Anthony Davis for some impressive alley oops. The end of the first quarter saw the East leading, 43-40.
The second quarter began with the West and East continuing to employ their bench units. John Wall and Chris Paul ran the offense for each team, setting up teammates like DeMar DeRozan and Klay Thompson for open buckets. Defense continued to be optional at best, even when rim protectors like Pau Gasol, Andrew Drummond, and DeMarcus Cousins were on the floor. With just over seven minutes left in the quarter the East had a 62-56 lead thanks in large part to 11 points from John Wall. After a timeout Kobe Bryant checked back in and promptly knocked down a three. Bryant was matched up one-on-one with LeBron James in an entertaining moment, but Kobe’s jumper came up short. Defense continued to be discouraged as Kawhi Leonard, Drummond, and Cousins threw down a series of dunks in rapid succession. Bryant got in on the act by hitting a patented fade-away over Carmelo Anthony, drawing cheers from the Toronto crowd. At the end of the half the West had the lead, 92-90.
— Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane) February 15, 2016
The second half began much like the first, with shots flying from all over the court and no one particularly concerned about defense. Paul George and Steph Curry traded threes and the West clung to a slim lead. For a few minutes threes replaced dunks as the go-to shot, as Westbrook, Curry, and Durant all got hot from downtown. Westbrook kept the shots coming, and had eleven points in the half after just four minutes. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant was largely ignored by his trigger-happy teammates, resigned to running the floor and occasionally setting up teammates. After a timeout halfway through the quarter both sides put their subs in, allowing Wall and Paul to go at each other once again. Wall exploded down the floor for a dunk, but Paul responded by finding Anthony Davis for yet another alley oop. At the end of the quarter the West had the lead, 145-136. The leading scorer was Paul George, who had a massive 32 points for the East.
The fourth quarter began with the West extending their lead to 13 thanks to some sweet shooting by Chris Paul and Klay Thompson. DeMar DeRozan got his hometown crowd excited with a monster dunk, but a pair of James Harden threes pushed the West even further out in front. By halfway through the quarter the West lead had ballooned all the way to 22 after a Cousins slam, and Bryant prepared to check in for the home stretch. After a timeout Bryant found himself matched up with former teammate Pau Gasol, and the two took turns successfully defending each other. Russell Westbrook continued firing away, hitting enough to make him the favorite for the MVP award. While the East did chip into the West’s lead somewhat it appeared that the outcome was all but decided. With that being the case the two teams never played the defense that we are accustomed to seeing down the stretch in All-Star games. The threes and dunks continued to fly, and in the end the West got the win, 196-173.