I was still in high school when the NBA held its All-Star Game in New York City, but today we’re getting a taste of what it would be like to bring All-Star Weekend back to the Big Apple.
Player introductions were just made for the USA vs. France exhibition, and it’s safe to say the Madison Square Garden crowd hasn’t seen a collection of NBA talent like this in their building in years. Rajon Rondo surprisingly got the biggest ovation of any player, rivaled only by Kevin Durant, NYC native Lamar Odom and Derrick Rose. Oh, and Mike D’Antoni got a huge ovation — and no audible boos. This is the finale of the World Basketball Festival, today’s game and the following exhibition between China and Puerto Rico. Time for tip-off:
- Starting lineup for the U.S. is Chauncey, Rondo, Durant, Iguodala and Tyson Chandler. France is running with Nanda De Colo, Florent Pietrus, Nic Batum, Boris Diaw and Ian Mahinmi.
- For the first few minutes it’s one of those “Good defense or bad offense?” games, with guys battling for every decent look at the basket and having trouble handling the ball. After yesterday’s USA/China scrimmage Eric Gordon talked about how the FIBA basketball gets more slippery as the game goes on, so that may be an issue.
- Chauncey opens the scoring with two free throws, then a few minutes later gets an and-one going to the rack to put the USA up 7-4 with under five minutes to go in the first quarter.
- Derrick Rose enters the game and fires a screaming bullet pass that goes seven rows into the baseline stands. I’m checking the aisles for random heads and dislodged eyeballs.
- Early this morning Coach K, as expected, cut JaVale McGee and Jeff Green. So now we’re down to 13 players, meaning the last man to get cut could write his own (plane) ticket with his performance in this game.
- Rudy Gay forgot he can’t goaltend. He had a shot at throwing one of France’s shots out of the cylinder but instinct made him pull back.
- Stephen Curry isn’t known for his defense, but between yesterday’s China scrimmage and his first few minutes of this game, he’s been creating havoc in Team USA’s full-court press. I’m guessing he didn’t learn that from Nellie.
- France is up 14-11 thanks to guard Yannick Bokolo getting some buckets. Bokolo is also inside Rose’s shirt defensively. I haven’t heard of Bokolo in terms of his having an NBA future, but he’s 25 years old, athletic, and listed at 6-5 (though he looks shorter). Keep an eye on him.
- The first crowd explosion comes courtesy Steph Curry mix-taping his way into the lane and dumping it off to Rudy Gay for a two-hand dunk. Rudy also gives Diaw a little glare.
- Gay ties the score at 16-all with a corner three at the end of the first quarter. Like it or not, Rudy is a franchise guy now. Do you think the Grizzlies will ever get past the first round of the playoffs with Rudy as their top guy? What kind of supporting cast does he need around him?
- Slow Internet …
- And we’re back. Team USA is up 25-19 with about 6:30 left in the second quarter. Rudy Gay had a monster dunk during the break, and in the ensuing timeout, one of the the NY Liberty’s kid dancers fell on her face while running out to center court. I’m not allowed to laugh at that, right?
- Iguodala draws another “OOOOH!” with a contest-worthy right-hand windmill on the breakaway. Batum responds by dropping a two-hand dunk on Chandler’s chin off a putback.
- Very loud “Go Blue!” chant from the very large French contingent of fans. I only knew what they were saying because Dime’s Aron Phillips speaks a little French. Apparently he was able to retain his foreign-language from high school. I took three years of Spanish and can’t even order from the Dominican restaurants in my ‘hood.
- Durant follows a Rondo miss with a follow dunk, then throws down a rim-rocker on a drive over Alexis Ajinca. I’ll have to look it up, but I don’t think this is the first time Ajinca has been dunked on.
- Tony Parker and Eva Longoria are in the building and just got caught on the Kiss Cam during a timeout. The only couple I’ve ever seen get a bigger crowd reaction for that was Jay-Z and Beyonce during an All-Star Game one year. But Jay stone-walled B that time.
- Rondo freezes Batum in the lane with his signature fake-pass move and opens up the lane for an uncontested layup. If you want to see the American influence on the international game, try to catch one of China’s games in the World Championship. In yesterday’s scrimmage I saw almost every one of China’s guards do some version of the Rondo move.
- Rondo saves a loose ball right in front of Spike Lee‘s seat, gives Spike a little head nod, then takes off downcourt before tossing a botched alley-oop to Iguodala.
- At halftime, it’s 39-30 Team USA. Tony Parker and Ronny Turiaf leave their courtside seats to follow France into the locker room. Joakim Noah is a few rows behind where Parker was sitting, wearing a hoodie and looking like he’s trying to go unnoticed. Toney Douglas is here, but I doubt he’s getting access to the U.S. locker room. John Wall (who’s also here) would get in before Toney.
- Key stats at halftime: Rudy Gay leads the U.S. with 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting. Chauncey has 8 points, Rondo has a team-high 3 assists, and Odom has a team-high 5 rebounds. Team USA is shooting 46% from the field and 100% at the line, but just 2-for-9 outside the arc. France is led by Diaw’s 9 points (4-8 FG), while Batum has 6 points, 4 boards and 4 steals. The U.S. wants to cause turnovers, and while France has given them the ball 7 times in the fist half, the U.S. has coughed it up 6 times.
- The French fans sitting near me just made a mess in the aisle when Parker walked past us headed back to his seat. On the low, Parker is one of the coolest guys in the NBA. He never seems rattled by anything and has always been friendly when I’ve seen in him person, despite being pulled in 15 different directions by the people around him.
- Back to action. The U.S. starts the second half with their same starting lineup from the first half, while France has inserted Bokolo and Ajinca into the lineup in place of De Colo and Mahinmi.
- USA goes up by a dozen after Rondo hits Chandler for an easy alley-oop layup. Before the game Chandler was working on pull-up jumpers and hook shots, but once it’s live he’s all about lobs and putbacks. He’s one of the closest things to a pure defensive specialist that you’ll see in the League. (And after this summer, are we sure Chandler shouldn’t be starting over Brendan Haywood in Dallas?)
- Ajinca air-balls a hook shot, then Rondo skates past Batum and scores a layup over an onlooking Ajinca. Hopefully Larry Brown and Michael Jordan aren’t watching this game.
- I keep hearing that Flo Pietrus is arguably better than his brother Mickael Pietrus, but I haven’t seen anything to indicate that so far. But at least Flo keeps his hair cut.
- One reason Yannick Bokolo may not be on the NBA radar: He’s skinny. Chauncey just truck-sticked him in the lane for an and-one floater.
- Aside from the two dunks earlier, Durant has been relatively quiet. He just came off a screen and buried a fadeaway jumper while being fouled by Diaw. And why is it every time I see Diaw, he looks like he’s not in shape? He’s the French Rasheed Wallace.
- Eric Gordon is my dude, but this isn’t looking good for him. He played about a minute in the first half, and just checked in for the first time this half late in the quarter. Gordon was one of the best players on the court in the China scrimmage and shined in the first inter-squad scrimmage a couple weeks ago, but he might be left out for the Worlds. Then again, I don’t think Russell Westbrook has seen the court at all.
- On the court right now: Rose, Gordon, Danny Granger, Gay and Odom for the U.S.; De Colo, Batum, Mahinmi, Diaw, Diaw’s butt, and Ali Traore for France. Traore is just a banger-type big man. Kind of reminds me of Joel Anthony. It’s 59-40, USA.
- Looking around this crowd, walking down the street, on the subway … I completely understand where Dave Chappelle got the idea for is “New York Boobs” skit.
- Mickael Gelabale hits a three for France, cutting the lead to 59-46. Gelabale was one of the last great disappointing prospects to suit up for my Seattle Sonics. So he and Robert Swift always have that place in history.
- End of the third, it’s 64-46. Honestly, nobody expected France to be that much of a challenge, but it’d be nice to see things a little more competitive. Despite its handful of NBA-certified players on the roster, France is good for underachieving on big FIBA stages, and it’s going to be even harder for them without Parker and Noah this summer.
- Biggest ovation of the night was during the fan dance-off for some dude who looks like his name is Otis. He might be a weekend-league bowler at best, but he showed more athleticism than Aaron Gray just now.
- Odom scores to put the U.S. up by 20 to start the fourth quarter.
- Me and a colleague were talking about this yesterday: Does anybody in the NBA have better body-control than Derrick Rose? With his ability to get in the air and hang, it’s like he’ll make 2-3 different decisions in mid-air and still get the ball in the basket.
- Speaking of body control, Gay just got out on two straight breakways: Throwing down a backwards jackknife and a 360 under the rim. And he made both of them look easy.
- Checking the stats through three quarters: Westbrook and Kevin Love have not played yet, while Curry and Gordon are the two lowest guys on the PT scale. You’d think the U.S. has to keep Love for when they run across teams with size like Spain and Brazil. Curry and Westbrook have been lethal on the full-court press, but then Gordon’s jumper has been water. Who do you cut?
- Granger just barreled over Batum, and every Portland Trail Blazers fan just had their stomach flip a little. In our Q&A yesterday, Batum said the Blazers can be very good if they stay healthy, and I agree with him. But can you rely on a roster with Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, Marcus Camby and Batum to avoid injuries?
- Westbrook and Love are in for the first time. Also on the court: Steph Curry, Durant and Gay. France has De Colo, Batum, Allain Koffi, Diaw and Gelabale. This is as close to scrub-time as you’re gonna get for Team USA, and the crowd might be dead right now if KD and Gay weren’t there for the threat of something amazing.
- With under 4 minutes to go, it’s 77-53, USA. Crowd breaks into a “U-S-A!” chant. It would have been cool to get Hulk Hogan out to something like this.
- The lead us up to 30 with 1:20 to play, and fans are starting to file out. I’m wondering how the crowd will be for China/Puerto Rico. Both teams have significant fan bases in NYC, but that game is definitely the undercard running after the main event.
- Eva Longoria was just escorted from her seat back to wherever rich and famous people go at MSG. Tony is still sitting courtside, probably waiting to hit up the France locker room post-game.
- Curry goes behind his back on the break, but gets his layup spiked by two French defenders into the seats. Still, watching how Curry shoots, handles, and plays D, I find it amazing how so many people doubted that he would be a good NBA player. You have to stop looking at the name on the front of a college player’s jersey and watch him individually.
- Last U.S. possession of the game, Durant crosses up his guy and gets to the rack for an and-one pull-up off the glass. The free throw makes it 86-55, and France misses at the buzzer. Ballgame. Off to do interviews for me, then we’ll be back for China/PR.