Everybody’s favorite story line
* U.S. Airways Center, Phoenix — The clock on the scoreboard says we’re 37 minutes away from … something. It can’t be the countdown to tip-off, because the arena isn’t even half-full right now and I know the intros alone are gonna take about 20 minutes. Dwight Howard is on the court shooting jumpers in between the free throw line and the dotted, joined on the East side by Danny Granger and Devin Harris launching threes, and Rashard Lewis working on his mid-range J’s. Tim Duncan was out on the West side earlier taking some jumpers, but as of right now that end of the court is unoccupied. I’ve got my Nate Robinson wallpaper on the laptop, I’ve erased any leftover Michael Rapaport imagery, I’ve got my gum and my water and I’m ready to go …
* Myself and three other members of the Dime crew had an MVP draft this morning: snake-style, each guy ends up with six players, whoever has tonight’s MVP gets the pot. I picked second and ended up with Chris Paul, Duncan, Brandon Roy, Paul Pierce, Buckets Granger and Rashard. And to be honest, I’m kind of regretting my first pick. After Kobe went first, I was trying to decide between D-Wade, CP and Amare with my pick. I love how D-Wade is playing this year, but he usually doesn’t put up huge numbers in this setting. His year-by-year ASG scoring looks like this: 14, 20, 10 and 14, and he doesn’t get a lot of assists. I didn’t wanna take LeBron since he got MVP last year, and how often do guys go back-to-back? Plus, I figured the West would win anyway. So I took CP, thinking he should get tons of assists to the Amares and Duncans and Yaos, and he’ll try to get his man David West buckets (the East is short on bigs). Maybe it’s just buyer’s remorse, but now I’m thinking maybe I should have gone with Amare. He’ll have the crowd behind him, and I forgot about CP’s recent injury. And if I’m Phil Jackson, maybe I wanna play Tony Parker a lot of minutes tonight and help myself out a little.
* Twenty minutes on the clock. Rick Fox is being interviewed by NBA TV’s Melanie Collins in one corner of the court, and Craig Sager is walking around in a pink blazer, blue tie and red pants. He’s a clown. I think I see Spike Lee wearing a full suit AND a top hat.
* The East All-Stars come out to warm-up, backed by “Roc Boys” (you’re welcome, LeBron). They each get a couple handfuls of tiny basketballs and throw them into the crowd. Allen Iverson looks noticeably bored by the whole thing. Hey, did you hear that A.I. cut his hair? The West comes out to “Bring ‘Em Out” (lots of Jay-Z this weekend) but doesn’t have to throw the balls because the East took them all. Speaking of Jay, last night the Dime crew ended up at a party somewhere out in Scottsdale with Jay, Beyonce, LeBron, Kobe, Shaq, the Gasol Brothers, Kelenna Azubuike, Lorenzen Wright (dig that swfit drop-off in star power) and a TON of eager groupies. Open bar and everything. I’m assuming this was the hottest party of the weekend, but then I did skip the Carmelo/Young Jeezy black-out party on Friday. That one had “tragic incident” written all over it.
* The clock has run out and the players are gone. A bunch of dancers (male and female) and random mascots (Mavs, Bulls, Heat, Suns, etc.) take the court. Why on Earth did some of these guys agree to wear WNBA Phoenix Mercury jerseys? Now the arena is dark and we’re watching the intro you’re probably watching on TNT, with the wolf/snake/desert animal theme.
* Player-intro time. A little Jabbawockeez (I’m 100% sure I spelled that wrong) dance, and the reserves have a simple coming-from-backstage entrance. As usual, loud boos for Tony Parker. Also some boos for Pierce for whatever reason. Mixed reaction for Dirk. Since the Phoenix fans are booing TP basically because he destroys Steve Nash, does that mean they’re gonna boo CP?
* Shaq comes out with the Jabbawockeez mask and dances with them, and everyone is eating it up. Shaq is The Man, seriously. I think he’s dancing for this entire song.
* Both groups of starters are unveiled together, with a little “You Got Served” taunting from the East to the West. KG does a little Stanky Leg. LeBron of course throws the Roc. Huge boos for Duncan when he’s introduced. (No dancing from TD?) How about Kobe getting the elongated intro (Ko-beeeeee) but still getting mostly booed?
* With the news that Terry Porter is getting fired ASAP, this has to mean Amare isn’t getting traded, right? STAT’s big problem all year has been with Porter’s system; I’m imagining whoever they get to replace Porter will re-implement a running system.
* During Jordin Sparks‘ anthem, the big screen showed a shot of Muhammad Ali. A definite murmur went through the crowd, then it was like everyone at the same time decided it was OK to applaud Ali during the anthem. Cool moment.
* Wade opens the scoring with a three, Kobe misses a three, and LeBron goes to the rack for a lefty layup to make it 5-0, East. Kobe misses a fadeaway on the baseline (as somebody near me on press row goes, “OH SHIT!” and A.I. draws the first “OHHHHH” from the crowd with a fake-pass/layup. Duncan finally gets the West on the board and it’s 7-2.
* Wade passes behind the back to Dwight, who crams it on Duncan’s head with Yao nearby. That hurt. My man CP puts a nice spin move on A.I. and puts up a floater, but Dwight swats it. A few minutes later, Yao stands and watches and Wade takes the open baseline and dunks with two hands. Why didn’t I pick D-Wade for MVP? I can feel myself losing money. (And just as I said that, CP gets a backcourt steal and assists Kobe for a dunk. Rack up those dimes, Chris.)
* Our first timeout with 5:44 remaining in the quarter and the East leading 20-10. Subs in after the break: Shaq, Dirk, Devin, Pierce and Joe Johnson. Duncan, Yao, A.I., KG and Wade take a seat.
* Shaq thinks about a baseline fadeaway, but hits a cutting Kobe under the rim. Kobe gets blocked. I’m so glad I don’t have to watch this on TV and hear the Kobe/Shaq/Phil thing beaten into the ground.
* CP takes off on a fast break, gets LeBron to jump high in the air on a fake-pass, then hits Amare with a lob. CP gets a steal on the next possession, mixes up Joe Johnson and dumps it off for Shaq, but the Shaqtus mishandles the ball out of bounds.
* Brandon Roy, Chauncey Billups, Rashard and Ray Allen are in. Rashard is guarding Shaq and is literally hugging him. In the East team practice the other day, Mike Brown was running Granger as his second-string center.
* Oh, and about the Mike Brown not having a playbook thing? During practice he had them work on maybe 2-3 plays, most of them a variation of the pick-and-roll, and everything always ended with, “And now we just play basketball.” Like, “Run a pick-and-roll up top, you go here to the corner, and now we just play basketball.” You can tell that’s one of his things he says all the time.
* TP is in the game now, as all the starters are on the bench. B-Roy hits Shaq for a dunk, then Shaq dimes Parker with a full-court outlet for a layup. The Phoenix crowd didn’t know whether to cheer or boo that one. The West has taken the lead, by the way, 30-23 with 1:30 remaining in the first.
* Ray assists Rashard on a mid-range J as I have a Sonics flashback. Did I mention it sucks not having an NBA team in your city after you’ve become accustomed to having one? Did I mention it especially sucks when that team is somewhere else looking like they’re gonna be solid in a few years? Did I mention I was at Sports Authority last week and saw green-and-yellow Kevin Durant t-shirts on the clearance rack?
* Celeb watch: John McCain (mix of cheers and boos), Grant Hill and Tamia sitting next to Jordin Sparks, Scottie Pippen, and I saw Ryan Hollins sitting a few rows in front of me. During the break, Jay-Z was dribbling a ball between his legs in his seat and clowning with Chauncey.
* Apparently this is that slow period that every game has. It’s all backups on the court, the PA announcer is just lazily saying the names of who’s scoring without naming the assist or showing any excitement, and the crowd is barely paying attention as people are still coming back to their seats. Pau Gasol is in the game now, along with Mo Williams and Danny Granger.
* Parker tries to hit Gasol with a nice skip pass at the rim, but Pau doesn’t see it coming in time. Parker just shrugs and claps his hands. If that was Kobe and this game counted, Pau would be getting the stink-eye right now.
* I was just handed the first-quarter stats. Kobe led all scorers with 11 points, followed by LeBron’s seven. CP had a game-high five assists, and Dwight, Kobe and Shaq each had three boards.
* Danny Buckets gets a breakaway dunk, and I’d have to guess he may have traveled because he went from the three-point line to the rim without a dribble, and Danny don’t have hops like that.
* Midway through the second, the lineups look like this: CP, Kobe, B-Roy, David West and Dirk for the West; Mo, Wade, Rashard, Granger and KG for the East. The West leads 50-47. Gasol blows a layup and an assist for CP, but makes sure to convert the dunk when Kobe feeds him. I’m not a big Gasol fan right now.
* Just got back to my seat after a food run. Seen in the hallway: Theo Ratliff, Thad Young, Reggie Theus (chatting up two blond groupies), the Jabbawockeez (without the masks), about 40 girls who look like they’ll be auditioning for next season’s “For the Love of Ray J,” and about 70 That Dudes. (You know that guy who goes to stuff like All-Star Weekend dressing like, acting like, and pretending to be a celebrity when he probably works part-time at Fye? That’s “That Dude.” This place is crawling with them.)
* End of the first half, the West leads 72-67. Kobe has 13 points, Pierce has 14. Amare, Gasol and LeBron each have 10 points. CP has eight assists, Dwight has five boards, Kobe has three steals and Dwight has two blocks to lead in those categories.
* I’m not really a John Legend dude (was he wearing fingerless gloves?), but I wouldn’t have minded if he brought out Andre 3000 and sang “Green Light.”
* Forgot to mention Barack Obama getting a MONSTER ovation during his satellite address. Keep in mind we’re in Arizona and John McCain is sitting courtside. McCain, by the way, is sitting next to Corbin Bleu right now. What could they possibly talk about?
* Team USA gets presented with rings to honor their gold medals — apparently because the medals aren’t enough jewelry. Chris Bosh was wearing a suit earlier, but now he’s got on Team USA warm-ups and matching sneakers.
* As the teams finish warming up, Ludacris and Donald “The Black Rapaport” Faison take a couple threes from the sideline. Each of them bricks. Chris Tucker is sitting next to Luda, tapping away at his Blackberry. Making a pizza order, I’d guess.
* The West goes up eight on a Kobe jumper. No halftime shoe changes that I can immediately recognize, but then again I wasn’t paying too much attention to the kicks. I saw Amare’s special All-Star makeups a little earlier than everyone else, and haven’t seen anything yet that tops them.
* Duncan wheels into the lane for a hook, only to get it sent to the beer man by Dwight. Goaltending is called, however. Next possession, Duncan and KG are “battling” each other for post position and basically joking around the entire time.
* Kobe rattles in a three, and LeBron scores on a drive on the next trip. Then Dwight and Yao fight for a rebound, with Yao going to the floor and almost blowing out Dwight’s knee. Dwight got up laughing, but you know he was kinda peeved at Yao for taking that chance.
* During a break they put the “Kiss Cam” on Beyonce and Jay. Beyonce clowned around, Jay threw up the Roc, but no dice on the kiss. The crowd got a kick out of that one.
* I just looked over at the TNT feed on the screen next to me and see Paul Pierce being interviewed on the bench. Yo, let Pierce go so he can get in and start jacking! I want that MVP win.
* Shaq and CP run the give-and-go, with CP posted up and Shaq playing PG. Shaq gets a clear lane for a dunk, then on the next West possession, tries a crossover but gets it poked away. Next possession, he posts up Buckets Granger and gets a dunk. West leads 103-86 with 3:08 to go in the third.
* Shaq tip-dunks a Kobe miss and does two chin-ups on the rim. No technical. Then he posts up Rashard and gets another dunk. He’s got 16 points and is making a case for MVP, or at least Most Entertaining Player.
* Is it just me or is David West not getting ANY burn?
* Pierce interrupts a potential breakaway dunk for Shaq by fouling him. At the end of the third, it’s 110-91 West. Looks like Kobe and Shaq are the front-runners for MVP. Can I do like all the people complaining about the Dunk Contest and say this was clearly rigged for Kobe or Shaq to get the trophy?
* Starting the quarter it’s Mo Williams, Ray Allen, Joe Johnson, Rashard Lewis and Pierce on the floor for the East, with Parker, Chauncey, B-Roy, Gasol and Dirk out there for the West. Another one of those quiet-crowd moments. As Dirk missed another jumper, I’m wondering if he’s ever had a good All-Star Game. (I looked it up: Dirk’s ASG career high is 13 points, which he had last year. In his other six appearances, he has three double-digit scoring games and three single-digit games.)
* Hey, there’s David West. He checks in an immediately commits a foul on LeBron as LeBron puts in a nice reverse layup. The stats through three quarters: Kobe has 23 points and four steals, Shaq has 17 points, and Amare has 15. Pierce leads the East with 16 points, LeBron has 15, and KG has 12.
* LeBron tried the Vince/T-Mac self lob, but blows the dunk. Same possession, D-Wade tips in a J.J. miss with a dunk. Next time down, ‘Bron gets inside for a layup and somehow air-balls it.
* From the looks of things on the bench, Garnett is done for the eveniing, as is Yao and probably Duncan. There’s about six minutes left and the West is cruising.
* Dwight bricks a jumper from the top of the key, so on his next touch he does what he knows and gets a dunk. And just as I wrote that, Dwight steps out to the arc and buries a long two.
* Kobe calls for a clear-out on Dwight, but Dwight doesn’t let him get past. Dwight then calls for a clear-out on Kobe, and dribbles it off his foot out of bounds. During the ensuing timeout, the League had Dirk and Shaq come to midcourt as they announced the 2010 ASG will be in Dallas at the new Cowboys stadium. It’s expected to draw more than 100,000 fans. I promise you right now: Dallas ASW will be a ZOO. It’s gonna be the world’s largest That Dude convention. The streets will run red with crabs.
* Tony Parker hits CP with an alley-oop that Paul finishes with a dunk. LeBron then does something — not sure if he was going for some kind of off-the-shot-clock dunk or trying to hit Devin with a lob, but either way it didn’t work. Under a minute and a half left, it’s 140-117. CP gets a breakaway but blows the dunk, having to settle for a layup.
* With 40 seconds left, Amare provides your (first) exclamation point with a breakaway windmill. Right after that, CP hits Roy off the glass for a dunk. Last possession, the crowd wants LeBron to do something, and B-Roy graciously steps aside along with the entire West defense to let LeBron throw it off the board to himself for a two-hander. Preview to the 2010 Dunk Contest? LBJ said he’s doing it, but I’m predicting a mild midseason injury that allows him to pull out last-minute.
* And the MVP goes to … Kobe AND Shaq. I think we all saw that coming sometime around the third quarter. (Is the crowd booing David Stern, Kobe, or the co-MVP cop-out?) Great, this means Kobe and Shaq get to pretend to like each other for a few more days until we get another story line to talk about.
* Finals stats…
K. Bryant – 27 pts (12-23 FG), 4 asts, 4 stls
C. Paul – 14 pts, 14 asts, 3 stls
Y. Ming – 2 pts, 3 rebs
A. Stoudemire – 19 pts, 6 rebs
T. Duncan – 6 pts, 3 rebs
B. Roy – 14 pts, 5 rebs, 5 asts
T. Parker – 14 pts, 4 asts, 2 stls
C. Billups – 5 pts, 3 asts
P. Gasol – 14 pts, 8 rebs
D. West – 6 pts, 3 rebs
D. Nowitzki – 8 pts
S. O’Neal – 17 pts, 5 rebs
D. Wade – 18 pts, 5 asts, 3 stls
A. Iverson – 2 pts, 3 asts
D. Howard – 13 pts, 9 rebs, 3 blks
L. James – 20 pts (8-19 FG), 5 rebs, 3 asts
K. Garnett – 12 pts, 4 rebs
J. Johnson – 0 pts (0-4 FG), 5 turnovers
R. Lewis – 8 pts, 6 rebs
P. Pierce – 18 pts, 4 rebs, 2 stls
R. Allen – 8 pts
D. Harris – 6 pts
D. Granger – 2 pts, 2 stls
M. Williams – 12 pts, 5 asts