For the fourth time in the last five years, the Western Conference owns bragging rights over the Eastern Conference. The West came out on top 163-158 over the East in the 2015 All-Star Game in Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was the highest-scoring All-Star Game in history:
Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook earned MVP honors, leading all scorers with 41 points on 16-of-28 shooting.
He finished one point short of Wilt Chamberlain's record for most points in an All-Star Game, per Oklahoma City's Twitter account:
As with every All-Star Game before it, the 2015 edition was high in offense, while defense came at a premium. Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk compared the viewership to that of the NFL Pro Bowl as fans tuned in to the high-scoring action:
Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk found the exact moment that ruined any pretense Sunday night would feature much effort on the defensive end or on the boards:
Early on, it looked like the West would easily outpace the East after jumping out to a 47-36 lead to end the first quarter. The difference swelled to as many as 18 points in the second quarter before the East fought back, reducing the West's lead to 83-82 by halftime.
The 165 scored between the two teams tied the All-Star Game record for most points in a half, per NBA on ESPN:
Westbrook particularly enjoyed himself in the first half. He didn't find a shot he didn't like, even if it came from about 30 feet out.
Westbrook rode his hot shooting to 27 points through the first two quarters, which set a record for most points scored in a half in an All-Star Game. Westbrook broke the old mark of 24 set by Glen Rice and Kyrie Irving, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. ESPN Stats & Info posted Westbrook's first-half shot chart:
ESPN.com's Jake Trotter wanted Westbrook to have fun at the All-Star Game and leave his bad shot decisions in New York City:
Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James was another of the standout performers in the first half. He led the East in scoring with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting. James' presence on the court helped spark much of the East's comeback in the second quarter.
Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal noted that James had a competitive fire in his eye before the game, and the superstar's play bore that out:
James had one of the dunks of the night when he caught a pass from Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry and threw down a vicious backwards jam.
LeBron's former Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade got a bit nostalgic watching the dunk with TNT's crew, via NBA on TNT:
Not to be outdone, Westbrook had the best dunk of the night, snatching a pass out of the air and delivering a thunderous jam. He even managed to hit his head on the bottom of the backboard.
Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford scored at the buzzer to tie the score at 122 apiece after three quarters.
Once the fourth quarter began, pride took over for most of the All-Stars. They weren't going to lie down while the other team ran out to a massive lead. Although it was certainly far from a playoff atmosphere, the final frame was a lot more competitive, with the East and West jockeying for position.
The East made it interesting late, getting to within five points, 161-156, inside of a minute. The East's stars had a bevy of three-point attempts miss the mark, any one of which would've trimmed the deficit to two points.
Instead, Chicago Bulls big man Pau Gasol settled for a finger roll to make it a three-point game, 161-158, with 2.8 seconds left.
From there, Westbrook iced the game away at the foul line.
Heading into the All-Star Game, quite a bit of speculation surrounded how much New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony would play.
In an interview with ESPN Radio's Marc Stein, Marc Kestecher and P.J. Carlesimo, via ESPN.com's Ian Begley, Anthony revealed that he would likely shut it down for the season once All-Star Weekend was over.
He added that skipping out on the All-Star Game wasn't ever under consideration.
"Even if I come out and just play a couple minutes and just wave, I don't think the fans deserve [seeing me miss the game]," Anthony said. "They voted me in for a reason, so at least I can show them that I appreciate that by just participating in the game."
Anthony played 30 minutes on the night, which was the second-most minutes by any East player. He struggled mightily from the field, shooting 6-of-20 for 14 points.
Another of the minor subplots was the brotherly battle between Pau and Marc Gasol. Sunday marked the first time two brothers started against each other in an NBA All-Star Game.
They shared a special hug during the player introductions, but they had to put their familial bond aside quickly as they matched up on the tip-off. Pau got the edge, giving possession to the East.
Statistically, Pau also had the better night, scoring 10 points and bringing down 12 boards, compared to Marc's six points and 10 rebounds. Marc Gasol got the victory, though, which is what really matters.
Fans who love tough defensive contests may not have loved this year's high-scoring All-Star Game, but the injury risk is too high for players to actually give 100 percent effort, especially without any real stakes beside pride on the table.
And while the endless array of dunks and wide-open three-pointers can get a bit monotonous at times, the All-Star Game, with its mix of intense competition and crowd-pleasing plays, is a great way to close out a three-day celebration of the NBA and the sport of basketball.
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