By A.Sherrod Blakely
LOS ANGELES Teamwork. Crisp ball-handling. Defense.
Keeping with what has been an All-Star game tradition, you didn't find any of those traits in heavy supply on Sunday.
So it should come as no surprise that the Boston Celtics' All-Star quartet had little impact as the West held on for a 148-143 win.
Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo were all All-Stars prior to Sunday's game.
Their success in Boston has been due in large part to their collective efforts, and not necessarily because of their individual skills.
NBA All-Star games are not conducive to players who are at their best in a team-oriented system.
"It's more of a pick-up game setting," said Pierce, playing in his ninth All-Star Game. "It's kind of hard. You're not in a system. You're in a free-flowing game. Usually it's made for the better athletes, the guys that can get up and dunk and put on a show."
That certainly was what the Staples Center crowd got from one of their own, Kobe Bryant.
Bryant finished with 37 points and 14 rebounds, and was an obvious choice in claiming his fourth All-star game MVP award.
"Let's be honest, Kobe had it going, to say the least," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, the head coach of the Eastern Conference squad.
As for the Celtics' fantastic four, Rondo had the best game statistically.
He finished with eight assists and six points. Allen led all Celtics in scoring, with nine points. Pierce chipped in with six points.
One of the few Celtics highlights came in the fourth when Garnett, who had four points and five rebounds, grabbed a rebound and launched a long outlet pass to Allen who soared in for a dunk.
For Garnett, Sunday's game was his 14th consecutive All-Star appearance, which ties an NBA record he now shares with Jerry West, Karl Malone and current Celtics teammate Shaquille O'Neal.
"To be in your prime and play All-Star caliber basketball is a compliment to you and your work ethic," Garnett said. "I'm just fortunate I was here with three others, coaching staff and guys in the organization. If this is the last one, couldn't go out a better way."
Aside from Rondo, there's no telling if any of the other three Celtics will ever be back as All-Stars.
Allen has shown no signs of slowing down anytime soon, but you have to believe at some point Sugar Ray's jumper won't be nearly as sweet as it is. Pierce is getting up in age, and his game will also likely undergo a decline in the coming years. Ditto for Garnett.
But for one night, in Los Angeles of all places, the four pillars to the Celtics' resurgence played on the grandest stage of them all.
And while it certainly would have been nice if one or all of them put up big numbers, that's never been their style since donning a Celtics uniform.
Boston has been so successful because despite their immense talent, each has sacrifice some facet of their game in order to help the C's remain a title contender.
When you spend years making those kind of sacrifices, it's hard to imagine tossing that to the side for one night.
So as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James (29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists) battled it out for the All-Star Game MVP award, you could find Garnett and company on the bench, cheering on their rent-a-teammates like James and New York's Amar'e Stoudemire (29 points, six rebounds).
And while all involved agree that the free-flowing nature of the game didn't necessarily jive with what the Celtics do best, that shouldn't detract from what will surely be a memorable weekend.
"I'm just trying to enjoy myself, enjoy the moment," Rondo said. "I'm just trying to enjoy myself."
Having three teammates there, plus the entire Celtics coaching staff, certainly helped.