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Efforts like Jaylen Brown’s Not Enough to Overcome Lackluster All Star Game

INDIANAPOLIS — Sunday’s All Star Game ended with Nikola Jokić trying to throw down a reverse slam while every other star in the building watched. The east already poured on 211 points and led by 25, why not add two more? Jokić’s dunk instead fell flat, as a did a game where only slightly funny moments and solid shot-making from Boston’s duo in the game could salvage any memories from one of the worst editions of the game ever.

“We scored 200 points, we had three guys score over 36 points, so (MVP) could’ve gone either way,” Jayson Tatum said after claiming the award last season with a record-breaking 53 points. “Dame put on a show and I was happy for him. It was cool that I could take a back seat this year and chill, and get to enjoy the show.”

The first flashes came midway through the second quarter, Paul George bouncing a high pass off the ground to LeBron James for a breakaway slam. Trae Young nutmegged in the other direction plays later, breathing needed life into a game that hadn’t delivered much flash since Tyrese Haliburton hit four threes in a row to begin the first quarter. Haliburton launched the fourth from near half court, then a fifth that bounced away. The east went on to launch an unimaginable 97 three-point attempts, hitting 42 (43.3%) to beat the west, 211-186, while fans in attendance largely sat bored otherwise with no true rally to set up the contested finish Adam Silver hoped for. Silver reportedly hastily exited the building following the final buzzer without interacting with anyone.

The east and west combined to shoot 76 threes in the first half alone, with the east riding 45.8% efficiency in the first half to take a 104-89 lead into halftime. Both sides converted 55% from field, largely driving uncontested to the rim or needing one move to shake their defender. Silver claimed the east-west dynamic would return some pride or connectivity to the contest that fantasy drafts might’ve lacked. That allowed Jaylen Brown and Tatum to play on the same side for the first time, only connecting when Brown ducked out of the post to kick to Tatum for three.

“It was cool,” Brown said. “Before, I think we were attempting to put a little more effort into it, but I’m not sure how successful that was. Hopefully, as the years go on, it gets back to being what the fans want to see … there were some discussions, there were definitely some. I’m not sure how successful that was … I guess guys are figuring out how to (compete) at the same time as having fun, being safe, being injury free. I guess more solutions need to be had to figure that out.”

They both reached 12 points through two quarters, Brown flushing a long three in the right wing before stealing a pass from Luka Dončić and driving past Jokić, who tried to shuffle his feet into a guarding position. Few made that attempt to that point, with Dončić’s put-back for his first points late in the half practically coming with the entirety of both sides standing and watching. Jokić embraced Dončić for the easiest score of the night, providing the only blooper of the first quarter too when Bam Adebayo tossed an in-bounds pass off his back after Jokić scored. Later, Jokić stole the ball from Haliburton and ran in transition, pretending to dunk then laying the ball in. Tatum hit the first shot of the night, a corner three, then put back a miss by Brown inside.

Only Lillard woke up the crowd briefly in the third, reaching 33 points on 9-f0r-17 shooting from three, launching a shot from half court and draining it after Dončić missed a three. Tatum poured it on to begin the frame, stepping back for three over Kevin Durant and playing a two-man game with Haliburton to get the hometown guard a three. He also posted and scored over Steph Curry and hit another three to reach 20 of the east’s 160 points in three quarters on 33-for-70 shooting from three. Then, he sat back as Brown took over on-ball scoring late. Only Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo combined for more points among teammates in the game than Brown and Tatum’s 56.

“They’ve tried to alter the schedule,” west head coach Chris Finch said. “When you get down by 15 points and you’re not able to get a stop or get the rebound back, and the shooting is at such a high level, it’s very difficult. I’m not sure exactly what the answer is … just gotta find a way to bring the game back a little bit.”

Karl-Anthony Towns made his own pitch for MVP and a comeback after halftime by pouring in shots around the basket, twice cutting the east’s lead below 20 and drawing as close as 12 on an 8-0 run late in the third. Brown answered with a pair of finishes at the rim before hitting a long three in the right corner in a game where he finished 6-for-12 from deep. Jokić tried a new maneuver, holding Brown as he separated from him to score left side. Officials didn’t call a foul, and the teams only took a combined five free throw attempts in the game. Antetokounmpo teased fans in the second half, nodding his head as they counted to 10 before missing the second of his two attempts at the line, grabbing his own rebound and finishing inside.

Moments like those, the lack of defense, especially early and an overall high-scoring affair will always define the All Star Game. The lack of nearly any legitimately competitive stretches, creativity or flash defined one of the worst games that’ll inevitably send the NBA back to the drawing board on the game. The Elam Ending impressed in previous iterations while the drafts allowed for cool moments between teammates like Brown and Tatum lining up for extended one-on-one battles on each end.

The fatigue of other contests in the weekend like the Skills Competition should also come under consideration, while NBA stars have long tested the viability of the Dunk Contest by avoiding it and leaving it to G-Leaguers. Brown helped add some interest to it this year. It didn’t draw rave reviews. Yet Silver stood at the podium on Saturday night without any strong answers over how to make it all better. Simply returning to old rules didn’t work, and as silver said on Saturday, an entirely solid all-star weekend prior to the game can get spoiled by a sleepy finale like Sunday’s. Indianapolis 2024 will not go down as a memorable one, snow, cold and all.

“We returned to the east-vs.-west format and the 48-minute game format, because we thought what we were doing was not working,” Silver said on Saturday. “I’d say, I think, people were uniformly critical of last year’s All Star Game and felt it was not a competitive game and it was not a position held solely by the league. I think the players collectively recognized as well that it wasn’t what they wanted to see either. That they had not put their best foot forward … we’re not necessarily looking for players to go out there as if it’s the Finals, certainly, but we need players to play defense. We need them to care about this game. The feeling was that maybe … that we’d gotten carried away a bit with the entertainment aspect … there’s nothing about it that feels like a real game … we don’t get to go through our usual routines … we sat down with the players and we listened to them, and we said alright, we have to return to basketball … it’s about the game, and that’s ultimately how we’re gonna be judged.”

Bobby Manning

Boston Celtics beat reporter for CLNS Media and host of the Garden Report Celtics Post Game Show. NBA national columnist for Boston Sports Journal. Contributor to SB Nation's CelticsBlog. Host of the Dome Theory Sports and Culture Podcast on CLNS. Syracuse University 2020.

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