NEW ORLEANS — It was the fourth quarter of the All-Star Game, and a few fans started yelling loudly enough for DeAndre Jordan to hear them from his spot on the Western Conference bench.
Their cry: “De-fense! De-fense!”
Jordan’s shout back: “No, no, no!”
The moment was both hilarious and fitting. Defense was in short supply on Sunday night during the NBA’s showcase game, one where Anthony Davis smashed a 55-year-old record with 52 points and the Western Conference beat the Eastern Conference 192-182. And it prompted some questions afterward on whether the glorified exhibition really needs to see at least the appearance of defense return.
“All-Star is about offense and giving the crowd a show, but if they want to see a little more defense as fans and everything — I mean, nobody wants to go out here and get hurt,” said Davis, the game’s MVP in his home arena. “It’s all about fun. … I love it. I don’t really care. I’ll go out there and have fun. I didn’t play any defense.”
There were 33 steals in the game, sure, but most of those were the byproduct of bad passes than picked pockets. There were 16 fouls, mainly ones players were taking to stop the clock and allow substitutions; only four were of the shooting variety. Stephen Curry laid down on the court at one point while Giannis Antetokounmpo was driving in for what became one of his 12 dunks.
“I’m going to play hard no matter what,” Antetokounmpo said. “That’s the only thing I know how to do.”
Davis took 39 shots, making 26, both of those now All-Star records. The game also established records for total points (384), most field goals (162), most assists (103), most assists by one team (West with 60), most points in one quarter (101, first) and so on. The East set a rather dubious record, establishing a new high score by a losing team for the third consecutive season.
Put simply, it’s not a real game, and real-game thinking doesn’t apply. LeBron James made a shot from nearly half-court, something he would never try in a competitive situation.
He loves defense. He wasn’t missing it on Sunday.
“I think the biggest thing coming out of the game is that everybody leaves injury-free,” James said. “We gave the fans what they wanted to see and everyone left injury-free. Another successful All-Star weekend for myself and everyone.”
West coach Steve Kerr said he and East coach Brad Stevens had jobs on Sunday night akin to the person who played the role of the title character in “Weekend at Bernie’s,” that being a deceased man who gets dragged from place to place and propped up to somehow give others the illusion that he’s still actually alive.
Kerr’s point: How All-Star games are played isn’t up to the coaches, but rather it’ll be the players who decide if they want defense back.
“It would be good to possibly incentivize the guys somehow,” Kerr said. “I don’t know if you can maybe get their charities involved or winner-take-all type thing, but I think it’s possible to play a lot harder without taking a charge. We know what silly is out there, if you’re undercutting guys, but it’s almost gone too far the other way where there’s just no resistance at all. I think there’s a happy medium in there somewhere.”
East guard Kyrie Irving expects that the game will change.
Like many, he said avoiding injury in the All-Star Game is paramount and that’s certainly understandable. But he also expressed a wish that the games had a bit more of a competitive aspect.
“I think going forward, the All-Star experience will probably get a little harder in terms of defense,” Irving said.
Down the stretch, the East did apparently try to raise the defensive bar. Stevens said it was discussed in the fourth quarter, with hopes of putting the East in position to win the game.
He almost sounded disappointed in how the flow went.
“We talked about trying to get back in it at the end and talked about how, obviously, the one way to do that is keep people in front of you,” Stevens said. “But, no, it probably should have been a bigger emphasis in retrospect now.”