Rating the 2021 NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta
Updated: Apr 5
Right, the time has come. I’ve rated the Skills Challenge. The 3pt Contest has fluttered under my microscope and the Dunk Contest has been reviewed. Now is time for the NBA’s main event. In this post, I shall review the NBA All-Star Game from Atlanta on March 7th 2021.
Spoilers, LeBron’s team won and it wasn’t even close.
But before we get into all of that, let’s travel back in time to the All-Star Game of 2020 in Chicago. Wow, now this game would get a 10/10 rating without much thought given to rate it any lower. Why? Well, because it was the most competitive All-Star Game in years. Players were taking charges, fouls were being contested and the heat of competition was akin to a playoff game going down the stretch. What led to this? Well, it was equal parts tragedy and equal parts format. Sadly, January 2020 saw the NBA lose one of its brightest stars in Kobe Bryant. Kobe and his daughter Gianna were among several lives lost in a horrific Helicopter incident. Kobe was one of the greatest players of All-Time. Google it. You won’t be disappointed. He also served as a mentor figure and idol to most of the players in the league. His loss sent shockwaves throughout the NBA.
His impact was so great that it led to changes in the way the All-Star game was competed in 2020. Teams would be competing to win each Quarter to earn money for their affiliated charitable organisations. In 2020 two local Chicago Schools were the recipients of the funds. After 3 Quarters, the leading total score would have 24 (in honour of Kobe) added to it, thus revealing a target winning score. That meant the 4th Quarter would be played without a timer, whoever reached the target score first would win, be it in five minutes or twenty-five minutes, however long it took for a team to reach the magic number would be how long the Final Quarter would play out. The overall game-winner would also see even more financial benefit to their affiliated charitable recipient. On top of that, the All-Star Game MVP was renamed in honour of Kobe Bryant. All this added up to a hotly contested spectacle that saw the best players in the game fight like their careers depended on it. It was enthralling.
Fast-forward to 2021 and the game format has remained the same. Teams fought to win each Quarter, and at the end of the 3rd Quarter, the teams leading score had 24 added to it to create the winning score to end the game in the 4th Quarter. This year two foundations supporting HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) would be the recipients of the prize money.
This year it was Team Durant vs Team LeBron.
The rosters looked like this:
Team Durant saw injuries for Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Anthony Davis. As well as this, Joel Embiid was out on Covid Protocols. The same went for Ben Simmons on Team LeBron.
Since Embiid and Simmons entered protocols on the day of the event they weren’t replaced. However, Mike Conley and Domantas Sabonis were brought into the All-Star fold as injury reserves. As a result of Durant and Embiid’s absence, both Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics) and Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans) were promoted to the starting 5 for Team Durant. Injuries and overall team selection were the first indicators for what ultimately became a landslide victory for Team Lebron. LeBron’s Starting Five heavily outweighed Durant’s in terms of talent and there was a considerable argument that his bench did as well.
After what felt like an endless amount of fanfare the game got underway. Once we got into the 1st Quarter the tone was set early on for how players would approach proceedings. Unsurprisingly, defence was out of the window in the 1st Quarter. Instead, we were treated to a back and forth of outrageous long-range shots, flashy dunks and alley-oops. Some were more successful than others, but it looked like, to begin with, players were focused on having fun and putting on a show. Team LeBron won the 1st Quarter 40 to 39. Perhaps the game would be closer than first thought, maybe the competitive nature would come later, it did the year before after all.
Nope, although the 2nd Quarter started slightly more competitive, with each team going to the line for free throws after shooting fouls. It ended in a landslide run by Team LeBron that featured many memorable plays. These included; Lillard, Curry and Paul all completing alley-oops (yes small guys can dunk too) and Lillard and Curry competing to make outrageous long-range three-pointers. Team LeBron took the 2nd Quarter victory with a score of 60 to 41, ending on a 21 to 2 run.
Whilst the game looked to be heading towards an uncompetitive exhibition, we did see some other cool moments in the 2nd Quarter. Boston Celtics action with Jaylen Brown going 1 on 1 against Jayson Tatum for instance. The Quarter also gave us an extended look at the reserve players; plenty of first-time All-Stars to be seen here. Jaylen Brown, Julius Randle, Zach Lavine and in his 14th season Mike Conley finally gets to play in the All-Star Game. Oddly enough, LeBron would not feature for the rest of the game after being subbed out in the 2nd Quarter. His absence was a shame as he is still regarded as the best player in the league.
After the underwhelming Dunk Contest at Halftime, the 3rd Quarter saw the game pick up where it left off. Team Durant had to put in work to close the gap to Team LeBron. They started to make good inroads by stretching into an early 7 point lead in the Quarter. Team LeBron didn’t allow any more progress hereafter. Their efforts were led by Giannis, who went on to complete the game with a 100 per cent field goal percentage. Team LeBron held on to win their 3rd straight Quarter, 46 to 42. After three Quarters the game-winning target score was set at 170. Team LeBron would start the 4th Quarter with a tally of 146 points, Team Durant with 122. The score will give you some sort of insight into where players thoughts were regarding competitive defence.
Had the contest finished before it ever truly began?
Would the Final Quarter give us the competitive action we saw last year?
Again, nope, the 4th Quarter went by in a flash as a tandem of Steph Curry and Damian Lillard completed an array of long-range shots bordering on ridiculous to see Team LeBron surge towards victory. The winning shot being an uncontested 3 pointer from Lillard from just beyond half court, a fitting metaphor for the game as a whole. Giannis deservedly won the Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP for his ridiculous 100 per cent Field Goal Percentage.
So what did I think?
Overall, this game lacked the spectacle and the fire of last years effort. This was down to several factors. Injuries saw many of the best stars have to forfeit their place in the game. We had two late Covid departures in Embiid and Simmons. LeBron only played for the 1st Quarter and a Half, so in essence, we didn’t witness Team Durant vs Team LeBron. Also, without fans, it seemed as if the players were more focused on having fun. Don’t get me wrong, seeing Steph Curry and co shoot from the half-court is exciting, but a competitive All-Star Game would have been better.
So, with all things considered I’ll rate this All-Star Game a 6/10. Also, I might as well slap a rating on the whole event. To be brutally honest that would also be a 6/10. NBA All-Star needs fans, and it needs to be spread over a Weekend. We missed the Rising Stars and Celeb games which are always a light-hearted opener. The Skills Challenge and 3pt Contest lived up to the hype with fans cheering being the only missing ingredient. However, the Dunk Contest and All-Star Game fell below expectations. Let’s hope that next year goes back to the older, more exciting ways.