Sports Journalism Blog

By Madie Chandler | @madie_chandler

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS – At the end of a record-setting night, National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver stood near midcourt at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during a moment designed as a celebration of the league’s All Stars. As Silver turned to his left toward the winning team and spoke into the microphone, his voice sounded more bewildered than delighted.

“And to the Eastern Conference All-Stars,” he said, “you scored the most points.”

Silver paused.

“Well, congratulations.”

The dizzying, historic output immediately sparked a conversation surrounding competition in the All-Star Game — or lack of it.

The East’s 211-186 victory Sunday night came at the end of a weekend in which the league’s leadership and legends of past generations had repeatedly stressed the importance of competition. The result was the most one-sided All-Star Game since a 27-point West victory in 2009 and the second-most lopsided in the last 28 games. There were only three blocked shots, three fouls and 14 steals, often the result of errant passes and failed attempts at flashy plays. One sequence saw three straight full-court passes — none of which resulted in a score.

The East’s point total surpassed the previous record of 196 by the West in 2016. The West’s 186 points were the fourth-most scored in All-Star history, and the most in a loss.

In the previous six games, with a format of captains selecting the teams, four games were decided by a margin of single digits and two were won by three points.

The teams made a combined 67 3-point baskets on 168 attempts, breaking the previous records of 62 and 167 in 2019. The totals of 163 field goals on 289 attempts broke the records of 162 baskets in 2017 and 286 attempts in 2016.

The points came so quickly that a 50-point night for Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves – 40 in the second half — nearly became an afterthought.

When Tyrese Haliburton of the Indiana Pacers made a 3-point shot with 1:27 to play to break the 200-point barrier, the game’s controversial place in basketball history was complete.

“I think people who are fans of the game, they love it,” said Damian Lillard of the Milwaukee Bucks, who scored 39 points and received the Kobe Bryant Trophy as Most Valuable Player.

Lillard made 11 of 23 3-point shots, including a 44-foot shot, the final basket of the night, with 22 seconds to go.

“They enjoy being entertained,” Lillard said of the fan reaction. “I think it could be more competitive…It’s not a game where you’ve got a scouting report and you’re locked in and a lot is on the line.

“I think 200 is a lot to be scored,” Lillard said. “It just shows that we didn’t go out there and compete…But I think that’s just what it is. Guys are talented. Make a lot of shots. We hit a lot of threes, and that was it.”

The game was the fourth professional basketball All-Star game in the city’s history, two in the American Basketball Association era of the Indiana Pacers in 1968 and 1970 and the most recent in 1985. The basketball fans of Indianapolis descended on the arena late in the evening, primed to witness the trio of Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant of the Phoenix Suns, and LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers share the court as members of the same team for the very first time.

Curry, Durant, and James have a combined 44 NBA All-Star selections, and none of the three have less than 10 individual selections. Their swath of experience outshined their Eastern Conference counterparts, who had just three players with more than five selections, and none with more than eight.

Despite their relative lack of experience, the East All-Stars dominated the first half. Haliburton made five straight 3-point shots within a span of just 1:32 in the first quarter, claiming 15 of the East’s 20 points in the first 3:34. This earned him cheers of adoration from his hometown fans in the sellout crowd of 17,251, and the East rolled into the second quarter with a 56-47 lead. Haliburton finished with 32 points on 10-of-14 3-point shooting. Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics scored 36 points in 22 minutes.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder scored 31 points.

The East lead extended to 19 points with 8:46 to go in the second as the East’s 3-point barrage began to overwhelm the West’s rim attack. A 45.8% success rate from 3-point range gave the East a 15- point halftime lead, and their 104 first half points equaled or surpassed the winning total of four previous NBA All-Star games.

It became clear in the third quarter that the Eastern All-Stars were gunning for the historic 200. They notched 56 total points in the period, shooting nearly 65% from the field. When the game clock reset to 12 minutes for the fourth and final time, the East had 160 points to the West’s 136.

The magic moment came in two parts – first with Jaylen Brown’s 29-footer solidifying the East’s 197 points as the most ever scored in an NBA All-Star game, and next with Haliburton, the hometown hero, scoring the 200th point on a left-wing transition 3-pointer assisted by Lillard.

“The shot making from the East was incredible,” Durant said. “I mean, it’s hard to play defense when somebody’s shooting 30, 40-footers over you. Great display of shooting tonight.” The East All-Stars rained in 17 more shots from long range than the West, and shot 43.3% to their 35.2% from beyond the arc.

“I think in a game like this you know it’s going to be pretty loose and you’re going to get your opportunities,” Lillard said. “I just told myself I’m going to be aggressive and I’m going to keep firing.”

Lillard, by a vote of 7-5 over Haliburton in the Most Valuable Player voting, joined Michael Jordan as the only players to win a contest on All-Star Saturday night and become MVP the next night.

“Any time you’re mentioned in the same category as Mike, it’s an honor, and it’s a major accomplishment, even if it’s All-Star Weekend,” Lillard said. “If it was that simple, more people would have done it….So that’s a major compliment for me to be mentioned in the same conversation as far as that.”