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NBA All-Star Game sees scoring records fall in defenseless 211-186 East win

2024 NBA All-Star - NBA All-Star Game

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 18: Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Western Conference dunks the ball during the NBA All-Star Game as part of NBA All-Star Weekend on Sunday, February 18, 2024 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2024 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS — The more things change…

The NBA ended its years of experimentation and returned to the old-school East vs. West for four quarters format for the All-Star Game. The result felt like a repeat of last year’s game with no defense and scoring records falling.

Behind 39 points from MVP Damian Lillard, the East set an All-Star Game record scoring 211 points, and the 211-186 win set a record for total points from both teams.

“To the Eastern Conference All-Stars, you scored the most points. Well, congratulations,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in presenting the All-Star Game championship trophy to the East, clearly gritting his teeth one day after he said this would be a more competitive, intense All-Star Game.

“I think it’s something we need to figure out. Where is the median?...” LeBron James asked postgame. “That’s what our games are like in the regular season now. They let us tighten up in the postseason. It’s a deeper dive into a conversation of how we can shore up this game. Obviously from a player’s perspective. It’s fun to get up and down, but at the end of the day, our competitive nature don’t like to have free-flowing scoring like that.

“But I think the good thing that came out of tonight was none of the players were injured, and everybody came out unscathed or how they were before the game started. So it’s a deeper conversation.”

Silver and fans looking for competitiveness can express all the disdain they want, this is what All-Star Games in every major sport have become — the best players in the game trying to avoid injury while showcasing their skills. Defense is not in the game plan. This isn’t just an NBA thing, the NFL did away with the game all together, it names All-Pros then has a skills competition and some flag football — it was the only way to get guys to play and take it somewhat seriously. The NBA can embrace the scoring explosion or not, but they are not going to get guys to risk injuries playing intense defense of a meaningless exhibition.

That’s not to say there were not entertaining moments.

Maybe the best play of the first half was Paul George’s bounce pass alley-oop to LeBron James.

It felt like it might be Lillard’s night when, in the third quarter, he just casually drained a 3 from half-court.

Bam Adebayo with the funniest play of the game, inbounding the ball off the back of Jokic to himself, turning it into a 3.

Or, maybe the funniest play was Jokic faking the dunk to lay it in on the breakaway.

NBA skill was on display, too. Karl-Anthony Towns dropped a game-high 50 in a losing effort for the West.

Hometown hero Tyrese Haliburton opened the game 5-of-5 from 3, the fifth one from the logo, much to the delight of the Indiana crowd. He went on to have 32 points and six assists.

None of that masks a game that does not showcase the competitiveness or intensity of the NBA, things we have seen through the first two-thirds of an intense regular season. There just may not be a way to bring that back (barring giving the winning team a seven-figure bonus).

As for the game’s back-and-forth, the East started to open the game up in the second quarter, leading by as many as 19 at one point and they were up 15 at the half. Damian Lillard (22 points in the first half) and Tyrese Haliburton (18) were positioning themselves for MVP. That East lead climbed up to 27 in the third before the West decided they didn’t want to be embarrassed and came back a little, but it was still 160-136 after three quarters. A comeback starts on the defensive end and that was not happening.

That lack of defense will dominate the conversation in the coming days, but bringing that back to a mid-season exhibition is, to use LeBron’s words, a “deeper conversation.”