It wasn’t an All-Star Game, but Oklahoma City sure treated it like it was. A near-packed Cox Convention Center saw stars like LeBron James, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden duke it out in a surprisingly entertaining game with Durant and LeBron’s White Team prevailing 176-171.
Keep in mind, this was a charity exhibition game. Didn’t matter though as 12,874 turned out anyway for it. The game was televised in Oklahoma as well as online, though there were so many clicks on the site that was streaming it that it crashed right before tip-off. There might not be any NBA right now and it might be football season, but people still want their basketball.
Half of the headlining act was even missing. Shirts being sold around the arena billing the game as “Durant versus Griffin,” only served as a reminder that Blake Griffin, born in Oklahoma City’s, wasn’t in the building because of a cut on his foot. But it also served as a decent metaphor that in basketball terms, the city belongs to Durant. Right before tip, Durant grabbed a microphone to thank fans for coming and said, “We’ll try and make it a show.”
I’d say mission accomplished. It wasn’t the best basketball I’ve ever seen and it certainly wasn’t competitive until the fourth quarter. Miles Rawles, who Durant brought in to MC the game, reminded the crowd, “It’s gonna get good in the fourth.” And it did.
The first 42 minutes or so of the game were nothing more than pull-up 3s, alley-oops and fast breaks. Everyone knows defense doesn’t really exist in these games and it most certainly didn’t the first three and half quarters. But the intensity absolutely picked up when the game got to crunch time. The White, who trailed the entire game, took its first lead late in the fourth. And once that happened, it was game on. I hadn’t seen a single screen for any of the game, but the last five minutes it was screen-and-roll every possession with LaMarcus Aldridge hedging as if it were a February game against Phoenix. The Blue’s offense went almost exclusively to Melo in the post working on Durant, while the White operated with Durant and LeBron exchanging running the offense. I don’t care what anyone thinks about these meaningless exhibition games, but it was good basketball.
Durant hit a big 3 with 25 seconds left to tie the game at 161-161 and when he did, the arena completely erupted. Like it was seriously loud. Following a miss on the other end by Melo, the White had an opportunity to win it at the buzzer. And you knew in his city, Durant was getting it for the final shot. Chris Paul checked him as he crossed the halfcourt line and Durant launched a 30-footer that missed at the buzzer. Somewhere, Scott Brooks nodded approvingly.
- Michael Beasley finished the game as the top scorer with 56. Be-Easy, as Rawles called him throughout the night, did it on an absurd 25-35 from the field. But here’s something to know: Beasley did almost all of that during the first three quarters when the game was an up and down, no defense type of affair. When the game got serious in the final 11 minutes (including overtime), Beasley, who was on the floor, didn’t score, much less shoot.
- Finals numbers: Durant had 42 points with 26 rebounds, Westbrook had 34, 13 rebounds and four assists, Harden had 33, 13 rebounds and three assists. Reggie Jackson, who made a surprise cameo in place of Monta Ellis, finished with 10 points in six minutes.
- On Jackson: Not much to take from this setting, but his athleticism is unmistakeable. He can fly. And that wingspan we heard so much about? In person, it’s absurd. It looked like his fingertips were going to drag the floor as he walked. Chris Paul put Jackson in the spin cycle though with a flurry of moves and Jackson cracked a big grin during it. You could tell this game was Jackson’s “Welcome to the NBA” night. He looked a bit starstruck.
- The preferred shot of choice in this game? The 3. There were a total of 278 field goal attempts with 82 coming from behind the 3-point stripe. The Blue Team went 14-41, the White 13-41. The best shooter was Carmelo who went 5-9 from deep. The biggest chuckers though? Durant (7-17 from 3) and Harden (6-17) who went a combined 13-34 from deep.
- Chris Paul had 25 assists for the game. While that number alone might impress you, consider this: He had 13 — yes, thirteen — in the first eight minutes of the game. And they weren’t just easy oops or drop-offs to Melo for a dunk. CP3 busted out an array of maneuvers and no-look passes to pile up his assists.
- The game featured probably the best set of rosters of any of the charity games this summer. And that’s even with a good number of no-shows. Griffin pulled out because of his foot, Amar’e Stoudemire, Monta Ellis (who was replacing the rumored Dwyane Wade) and John Wall (who missed his flight) all didn’t show. Rudy Gay didn’t arrive at the game until the fourth quarter because of a delayed flight and didn’t play.
- For those scoring at home, Kevin Durant, 30 shots. Russell Westbrook, 31. Freak out everyone, freak out.
- Chris Paul: “Guys don’t get paid to play in these games. Guys come out here because of how much respect they have for KD.”
- Since it wasn’t an official game, players weren’t obligated to speak with the media, though Durant and Paul went to a podium after the game. Other players stopped and talked just if they felt like it. Naturally, when LeBron emerged from the locker room, cameras and recorders swarmed him but LeBron politely said, “I love you guys but I’m gonna pass.” He did however stop and pose for a number of pictures with fans though as he was leaving.
- LeBron’s starpower is impossible to ignore. When he walked onto the floor for the first time about 45 minutes before tip-off, the arena exploded into a loud cheer. It wasn’t really a “Oh my gosh! My favorite player!” type of cheer, but more just excitement to see LeBron. He’s got that aura, that unavoidable pull to him. Initially, it was a louder cheer than Durant got. But during introductions, KD’s blew everyone away.
- In Jeff Green’s unofficial welcome back to OKC, he got a massive cheer. And he was very appreciative of it after the game talking about how much he loves it here.
- By my unofficial count, Russell Westbrook had 462 dunks in the game.
- I knew this game was legit when they busted out Sandi Patti for the national anthem. However, the halftime show was those two European bodybuilder guys in gold suits. Not exactly my favorite thing.
- Fans stood until the first basket was made. Good going, OKC.
- Russell Westbrook airballed a wide open 3. Miles Rawles: “Twenty-five pushups, son.” If ESPN’s still looking for someone to replace Mark Jackson, here’s my nomination: Miles Rawles. I want him to announce my life. It was a small thrill to talk to him after the game. He said he work tonight was his “business” version, meaning he scaled it back a little.
- Before the game, KD was warming up with one of Bob Stoops’ twin sons rebounding for him. See you guys, what rivalry?
- Damien Wilkins was a starter. Nothing says, “This isn’t actually the NBA” quite like that.
Props to Oklahoma City, Sold Out Strategies and Desmond Mason, who organized it. I know I live here so I’m incredibly biased, but everything about this game was top notch. Not just the fan support and turnout, but the presentation and organization of the event was outstanding. It was as if it were a real deal game. This is as close as OKC will ever get to hosting an All-Star Game, so organizers went all out. Media meal, halftime show, t-shirt tosses, kiss cam, fan contests — it had everything. For a charity game that was organized in just a couple weeks, it went off largely without hitch.
At the same time, the game served as a painful reminder to what we’re missing because of this frustrating lockout. Not just defense and plays and actual basketball fundamentals. But with a sold-out crowd eager and starved for basketball, fans largely just sat on their hands the entire game, breaking out the usual “oohs” and “ahhs” when an impressive play happened. There wasn’t anything to root for. Nothing to care about. Watching LeBron dunk and Durant bomb 3-pointers was fun and all, but these Oklahoma City fans clearly are more interested in basketball than in alley-oops and slick passes. And I get the sense they aren’t the only ones.