Sunday, February 17, 2008

All-Star Live Blog

Welcome to New Orleans Arena, the site of the 57th Annual NBA All-Star Game. We're closing in on tip-off and excitement is building in the arenas as the best basketball players in the world prepare to show off their skills.

I hope the blog has managed to convey this throughout the week, but being at the All-Star Game as a member of the media can be surreal. As I walked to go to media dining before the game, I passed about half of the Western Conference All-Star team in the hall. I arrived here about an hour and a half ago and took some time to sit in the lower media section to get a different view of the arena, all prepared for the game but with almost no one but media inside. You really get a sense of the magnitude of this event from that perspective. On hte other end of hte court, the West All-Stars were taking a team photo and preparing for the introduction of the lineups later tonight. I'll be sharing thoughts and observations throughout the game, so stay with us.

Tip-Off: After the introduction of the lineups (to New Orleans' famous jazz music, allowing Rasheed Wallace and LeBron James in particular to get their groove on) and stirring renditions of the Canadian and U.S. National Anthems, we're about ready to go. Hornets Chris Paul and David West will take the microphone to thank fans here and watching worldwide for their support of the city of New Orleans. By the way, while we think of this event as being attended by corporate types and not locals, Paul and the other Hornets have gotten huge cheers every time they've been announced throughout the weekend.

Here's what the court looks like from my perch above the 300 level:

10:53 1st: When the players stripped off their warmups, it was my first good look at the All-Star uniforms ... and they are definitely different. The West's unis are white in the front and gold in the back, while the East has blue on the front and silver on the back. When players are turned at different angles, it basically looks like there are four different teams out on the court.

5:32 1st: All East in the early going, racing out to an 18-10 lead. The All-Star Game isn't about defense, naturally, but the lack of it from the West was particularly egregious in the first few minutes. LeBron James took advantage to fly out of nowhere for an impressive alley-oop finish.

Kobe Bryant's night is probably done after less than three minutes of action as the league and the Lakers don't want to risk further injury to his injured pinky finger.

2:10 1st: Between three games (Rookie Challenge, D-League All-Star and All-Star) and All-Star Saturday Night, I've seen plenty of NBA timeout entertainment, some of it imported from various NBA teams as well as the Hornets own entertainment. The most pleasant surprise by far has been the "Used-to-Bees," a senior dance team for the Hornets that shows dancing is hardly just for the young. They performed during the last time and delighted the crowd by performing the Soulja Boy dance.

End 1st: The East holds a 34-28 lead with one period of play in the books. No individual player really stood out during the first quarter; Chris Bosh led all scorers with eight points. Yet to get in the game: Brandon Roy and Carlos Boozer for the West, Joe Johnson and Ray Allen for the East. Looks like all four will get in to start the second. Roy and Allen will match up with each other.

8:52 2nd: Brandon Roy has come in and made an immediate impact on this game, scoring six points and grabbing two rebounds. No nerves whatsoever in his All-Star debut, and Roy is showing that he belongs on this stage. Roy had a great up-and-under move after driving baseline. The East still leads, however, 46-39.

By the way, Allen is 1-of-2 from three-point range in his first three minutes of action, which reminds me that Allen has gone back and forth with Kobe Bryant for the most threes in All-Star action ... but leads in attempts by a mile. He's getting it up when he gets in the game.

5:08 2nd: It's the Dwight Howard and LeBron James show here at the New Orleans Arena. It started when Jason Kidd lobbed for James, who unselfishly left it up for Howard to finish, as Marvelous Marv Albert might say, with authority. James returned the favor on the next play, tossing it up to James for the finish. Then james found Howard again moments later. They've got 12 points apiece and Howard has added seven assists and six boards as he goes for the vaunted All-Star triple-double. The East leads it by nine, 62-53.

Halftime: At the midway point, the East still has a nine-point advantage, 74-65. Hre's hoping the West can stage a mini-rally and make this a close game going to the fourth quarter. Brandon Roy played the entire second quarter and leads the West with 11 points, adding five rebounds.

An unorthodox highlight: Rasheed Wallace hitting a left-handed three-pointer. Wallace, who always shoots left-handed before games (at least in Seattle), took two lefty triples and made the second one. Luke Ridnour is a tremendous left-handed shooter, I can tell you from watching Sonics practices. That might be an interesting All-Star event: the off-hand shootout.

12:00 3rd: After a terrific halftime show hosted by Harry Connick, Jr. that featured some of the best jazz musicians the city of New Orleans has to offer, we're ready to get underway with the second half. Steve Nash will start for the East in place of Kobe Bryant.

4:34 3rd: The East has opened up a lead as large as I believe 16 points in this third quarter, though a little West surge the last couple of minutes has it back down to 11 and kept hopes of a competitive fourth quarter alive. The difference might simply be that LeBron James is on the bench, because he has dominated this game when he has been in. James has 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists and has reduced everyone else on the court to supporting roles. He's well on track for MVP (joining the one he has from 2006 in Houston) if the East hangs on.

Houston's Yao Ming is looking to hit a three-pointer tonight. He's attempted two, missing them both and drawing all air on the second. In his career, Yao is 1-of-9 from downtown.

End 3rd: It's a 13-point margin as we go to the final period of play and the hope remains the West will make a legit run at this coming out of the break.

The NBA has highlighted local basketball legends, including Louisiana natives Bob Love, Karl Malone, Bob Petit and Willis Reed (who works for the Hornets). During a third-quarter timeout, the family of late New Orleans Jazz star Pete Maravich was introduced. The other local hero to draw a big hand? Former Saints QB Archie Manning.

8:43 4th: Don't look now, but we've got us a ballgame. The West has pulled to within five, 108-103, and Chris Paul is leading the comeback. The hometown point guard just hit a floater in the paint, giving him 11 points and a game-best 10 assists. If the West comes back to win, it will be hard to deny Paul MVP honors.

Amare Stoudemire added to the evening's highlight dunks by driving and dunking over, I think, Dwight Howard. I couldn't quite tell watching the replay if it was Stoudemire or Chris Bosh. (Update: It was indeed Howard.) Either way, very impressive.

5:34 4th: What you ask for with an All-Star Game is some great individual plays, some phenomenal dunks and legitimate basketball with a great deal of intensity over the last five minutes. It looks like we're going to get all of that tonight. The West has taken a 114-112 lead, outscoring the East 21-6 in the period. Chris Paul missed a layup that would have torn the roof off this arena. On the court for the East for this run: Paul, Brandon Roy, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan (he replaced Carlos Boozer early in the run) and Amare Stoudemire. Stoudemire had another powerful dunk finish. The East will counter with Jason Kidd, Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James (who just threw up an airball from about 27 feet) and Dwight Howard.

1:49 4th: The last three buckets for the East: Ray Allen three; Ray Allen three; Ray Allen three. The last bucket gave the East a 125-122 lead. Allen had been having an unremarkable game before the final couple of minutes, but now he's got 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting (5-of-8 from three) and has put himself firmly into the MVP discussion. Of course, with 1:49 left on the clock, there's still plenty of time for the West, which had surged ahead 122-119 on a Brandon Roy layup in transition before Allen's threes.

By the way, Roy, in his second year, is on the court to finish this game with Steve Nash and Allen Iverson, amongst others, on the bench. Wow?

Final: The East wins this one, . Chris Paul tied it at 125 with a three and had a chance to be a hero in front of his home crowd, but - in a turn of events so stunning it can barely be imagined - Paul was called for an offensive foul setting a screen. By that point, the intensity had picked up - some East fans to our right were even chanting "DE-FENSE!" LeBron James had just given the East the lead with a powerful driving dunk, and Dwyane Wade followed the offensive foul with a layup plus the foul. Even though he missed the free throw, the West never got back in it. A Brandon Roy three gave him 19 points for the evening and brought the West within three, but Ray Allen hit the first free throw and Dwight Howard grabbed the rebound on his miss and that was that.

James is your MVP, finishing with 27 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Allen scored 14 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, nine of them on threes. On the West side, Paul had 16 points and 14 assists and his fellow first-time All-Star Roy finished with 18 points and nine boards and acquitted himself quite nicely indeed.

I'll fight the crowd to listen to the postgame interviews and then wrap it up from New Orleans Arena.

Wrapup: Truly, I think this night had everything you could ask for as an NBA fan - though I must admit I was rooting for a West victory; conference pride runs deep. We had the NBA's best players showing off what makes them special, we had a number of memorable highlights and ultimately we had a terrific finish that was as good as it gets short of a last-second shot.

To be able to experience that from in the arena ... well, that's just incredible. To be able to talk to the players afterwards is even more amazing.

Here's Brandon Roy. He said he was nervous before hitting his first shot and getting going: