From new format comes a new kind of All-Star Game

From new format comes a new kind of All-Star Game

LOS ANGELES -- The 67th NBA all-star ended with both teams clamping down on defense.

No surprise there.

But defense in the first quarter?

Well, it wasn’t playoff-caliber, but it was definitely a step in the right direction if you’re a fan of defense.

In the end, Team LeBron  squeaked put a 148-145 win over Team Steph.

LeBron James led all players with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists.

Kyrie Irving had 13 points, seven rebounds and nine assists for the winners, while Al Horford tallied six points and five rebounds for Team Steph.

The signs that this was a different kind of All-Star Game were apparent early on.

In the first quarter, Team LeBron’s Kemba Walker went in for what he thought would be an easy lay-up, only for Giannis Antetokounmpo to swat it out of bounds with authority.

Soon after, Antetokounmpo went up for a seemingly uncontested dunk only for Russell Westbrook to foul him on the shot.

For those tuning into the 67th NBA All-Star Game, all of this seemed, well, foreign.

Defense in All-Star Games?

Maybe the final couple of minutes of play, but in the first quarter?

Uh, no!

Of course there were the usual, everyone-has-an-EZ pass-into-the-lane stretches defensively by both teams.

With the new format that involves a mix of East and West players on both teams, has been praised as a positive by the players.

“I like it,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said prior to the game. “A little mix-up, a little clash of East and West on different sides. I like the little mix-up we have.”

San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge, who played for Team LeBron, echoed similar sentiments.

“I feel like anytime that you have the mixture that we have and the guys that might want to play against guys they've never played against, it's going to make the game better,” Aldridge said.

And then there’s the money aspect to think about.

The winning team would get $350,000 to the charity chosen by the team captain, while the losing team would get $150,000 to the charity chosen by the captain of the losing team.

“Anytime you add money to the pot, it's definitely going to motivate guys for sure,” Aldridge said.

The prevailing thought was more traditional style of basketball involving more effort defensively and less of the isolation, one-on-one play with matador defense being the rule and not the exception, was intended to spice up an all-star game format that had been a bit of a snooze fest in recent years.

Team LeBron spent most of the first half trailing, but regained the lead briefly in the third quarter and again late in the quarter behind the red-hot shooting of Bradley Beal.

But Team Steph regained the lead in the final minute of the quarter, 112-109, behind a 3-pointer by Steph Curry which would be the last points scored in the third.


Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Sometimes we forget that a big part of why Brad Stevens is in Boston is because of what he has done as a coach this time of year.

He led a pair of Butler teams to deep postseason runs before coming up short in a pair of national title games.

Well, he’s embarking on a different kind of March Madness in leading the Celtics to a string of improbable wins, the latest being a 105-100 victory at Portland on Friday night.

It was the kind of victory that when you start to roll out the reasons why Stevens should be this season’s Coach of the Year winner, folks will use the win at Portland as an example.

The Blazers are not only one of the better teams at home, but they came in having won 13 of 14 games with the lone loss coming to Houston, which has the best record in the NBA.

But what made the victory so unexpected was the cut-and-paste lineup Stevens has employed because of a long rash of injuries.

Kyrie Irving missed his fifth consecutive game and is expected to be lost for another three to six weeks after having a procedure to on Saturday to help alleviate some of the soreness in his left knee.

Jaylen Brown has missed several games with a concussion, but he has progressed to where he's now questionable for the game in Sacramento on Sunday night. 

Boston was also without Marcus Smart (right thumb) who won’t be back until sometime in the playoffs.

And that doesn’t factor in Gordon Hayward (dislocated left ankle) or Daniel Theis (torn meniscus, left knee), both out for the season.

It’s easy to chalk up Stevens’ success to great Xs and O’s work.

But he’s doing more than that.

He’s inspiring a level of confidence in players that generated results exceeding all expectations; that is, expectations outside of their locker room.

Even when this team struggled with no clear signs of hope on the horizon, they didn’t blink.

Rather than use their less-than-ideal state as a justification for poor play, they funneled that energy and focus into becoming a better team - not better players, but a better team.

Because frankly, that is what we’ve seen from this group all season. Of course, you have your star in Irving, but this team has been a get-it-done-or-else squad all year that doesn’t get too locked into the success or struggles of any one teammate.

And that has allowed Boston to withstand the kind of injuries to key players that would have crippled many other teams.

But with the lack of bodies, there has been a lack of respect for how good this team really is.

Stevens has tapped into that and used it to help focus this team on playing great and most important, giving themselves a chance to win regardless of the opponent, regardless of how dire a situation may be.

And that has created the kind of March Madness Celtics fans are absolutely lovin’ right now.



Optimism that Kyrie will be back for playoffs

Optimism that Kyrie will be back for playoffs

Kyrie Irving underwent a left knee procedure on Saturday that will keep the five-time All-Star guard out for at least the start of the playoffs.

The Celtics indicated that Irving will be out for 3-6 weeks.

According to the Celtics, the procedure was to remove a tension wire in his left knee. The wire was originally placed there as part of the surgical repair of the fractured patella injury Irving suffered in the 2015 NBA Finals when he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Removing the wire is expected to lessen the irritation it was causing in Irving’s left patellar tendon.

The fractured patella injury from in 2015 has fully healed and, according to the Celtics, Irving’s knee has been found to be “completely structurally sound.”

The timetable for Irving's return is roughly the same as that of Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who last week had surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb. 

Irving, who turned 26 on Friday, finishes his first regular season with Boston appearing in 60 games while averaging 24.4 points per game on a career-best 49.1 percent shooting from the field.